Researchers found children who sleep too few hours or had restless nights ate more and had bigger stomachs than those who got the recommended amount of kip.
Four in 10 British children or 4.53 million aged between five and 19 were obese or overweight in 2016 – up from 2.66 million in 1975.
Previous research showed sleep patterns play a role in obesity in adults.
But most studies exploring the connection between sleep and obesity in children has focused on the duration of sleep, rather than the way quality of sleep or circadian patterns affect eating behaviours and weight.
While sleep duration is important, examining markers of sleep quality may also be useful in designing childhood obesity prevention strategies, according to researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Centre in the US.
Children taking part to the study who slept too few hours or had restless nights ate more
Professor Bernard Fuemmeler explained: “Childhood obesity very often leads to adult obesity.
“This puts them at greater risk of developing obesity-related cancers in adulthood.
“Today, many children are not getting enough sleep.”
“There are a number of distractions, such as screens in the bedroom, that contribute to interrupted, fragmented sleep.
“This, perpetuated over time, can be a risk factor for obesity.
Having a screen in the bedroom contribute to fragmented sleep
“Because of the strong links between obesity and many types of cancer, childhood obesity prevention is cancer prevention, in my view.”
The study tracked the sleeping patterns and diets of 120 children whose mothers had participated in the Newborn Epigenetic Study.
This was a federally funded project that examines how environmental exposures and nutrition, both pre-birth and during early childhood, affect how genes work.
The average age of the children was eight and their sleep-wake cycle was monitored by wearing accelerometers continuously for 24 hours per day for a period of at least five days.
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To gauge eating habits, children completed the “eating in the absence of hunger test”
They ate a meal and reported when they were full and then researchers tracked how much food they ate once they had reached the point of satiety.
The study found shorter sleep duration, measured in hours, was associated with a higher BMI z-score, that is body mass index adjusted for age and sex.
Each additional hour of sleep was associated with a.13 decrease in BMI z-score, and with a 1.29 cm decrease in waist circumference.
The study tracked the sleeping patterns and diets of 120 children
A more fragmented rest-activity rhythms and increased intradaily variability, a measure of the frequency and extent of transitions between sleep and activity, were also associated with greater waist circumferences.
And earlier onset of the most active period during daytime, diurnal activity, was associated with higher intake of calories once the children had reached the point of satiety.
Future research was needed to understand more about the way poor sleep affects weight and whether sleep quality influences weight gain or weight in children affects their sleep.
The findings were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Special Conference Obesity and Cancer: Mechanisms Underlying Etiology and Outcomes in Austin, Texas.