Does child obesity lead to childhood sleep disorders or vice versa? With much focus placed on recent medical research involving the connection between diet, weight, exercise and sleep in children, there are two evolving theories which could, at any point, apply to your own child. As a vicious cycle, the findings with regard to obesity and sleep disorders in children have determined that, no matter which came first, the two conditions are intertwined. As a parent, understanding the dynamic of the two theoretical connections and the methods for improving sleep and reducing obesity in your own child will provide for a healthier child, both physically and emotionally.
In the argument claiming lack of sleep leads to child obesity, medical researchers believe this may be the number one contributor of obesity in children. The basis on which this believe is held lies in the theory that children who sleep inadequate numbers of hours will, undoubtedly, be less active during the day and make inappropriate food choices secondary to hormone irregularities, all related to poor sleeping habits. So, what is the culprit of inadequate sleep?
In most childhood development programs, it is believed that factors such as television and video games may inhibit a child’s ability to sleep in addition to impacting the child’s interest in participating in outdoor activities.
In contrast to the “lack of sleep leads to obesity” theory, there is another theory which lends thought to the opposite reaction; children who are obese will suffer from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. Under this theory, children considered overweight will place extra exertion upon the cardiovascular system, respiratory system and may even experience low self esteem and depression which can lead to anxiety.
When examining these two theories more closely, one can clearly see the relationship to obesity and sleep disorders is clear. However, to determine which came first, the sleep disorder or the child obesity may be simply based upon the individual genetic and environmental make-up of the child. In either scenario, parents should pay particular attention to not only the weight and nutrition of the child but also ensure sleep patterns are well established and consistent in the home. So, how do parents establish consistent patterns in diet and sleep for their children?
First, it is essential that all electronic devices, including television, radio, computers and cell phones be removed from a child’s bedroom. As the bedroom should be a place to relax and unwind after a long day, the presence of electronic devices only serves to prevent the child from engaging in relaxation activities.
Secondly, children should participate in after school activities, structured or unstructured. Such activities may include participation in dance, baseball and soccer but could include activities as simple as walking a bike or walking at the park.
And finally, parents should encourage proper food selection. With fast food restaurants offering quick dinner alternatives, it is recommended that children be taught nutrition at home rather than “on-the-go”. Prepare meals with your children, engage your child in grocery shopping experiences, and set an example through your own eating habits.
Following these simple steps, parents can lay the foundation to prevent not only obesity in the child but also work to prevent the onset of sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea. When suffering from either condition, consultation with your child’s pediatrician is recommended as discussion with regard to a nutritional program or sleep study center may be necessary.