New research has determined that preschool aged children who regularly go to bed by 8 p.m. are less likely to become obese in teenage years than children with later bedtimes. According to the study out of the Ohio State University College of Public Health, children who went to bed after 9 p.m. were at twice the risk of obesity later in life.
Dr. Sarah Anderson, lead author of the study and Associate Professor of Epidemiology reminds parents that this reinforces the importance of establishing a healthy bedtime routine. Further, it helps pediatricians provide evidence-based advice to parents in the clinical setting.
This can significantly lower children’s risk of developing diabetes, with a variety of positive benefits on social, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development, Dr. Anderson states.
Childhood obesity is a big problem in the United States. According to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 17% (over 12 million) children and teens are affected. Obesity is a dangerous problem that can set children up for health and social struggles, including problems like heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
Published in The Journal of Pediatrics, this research focused on data from 977 children in the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. The research closely followed babies born in 10 U.S. cities in 1991.
The preschool children were divided into three categories: Those who went to bed at 8 p.m. or earlier, those between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., and those who were put to bed after 9 p.m. The average age was 4-1/2 years when mothers began reporting their weekday bedtime activities.
The children were followed to an average age of 15, with bedtimes reviewed very closely to determine which teens were more prone to obesity. There was a striking difference. Only 1 out of 10 children in the earlier bedtime (8 p.m. or earlier) were obese in their teen years. Comparatively 16% of the children with bedtimes between 8 and 9 p.m. and 23% of children with bedtimes after 9 p.m. were reported to be obese as a teenager. About half the kids who were part of the study fell into the middle category of bedtimes. One quarter had earlier and one quarter had the later bedtime.
Videoed interactions between mothers and children were also reviewed, because emotional climate at home can have an influence on bedtime routines. This measurement was referred to as “maternal sensitivity,” which looks at the mother’s respect for the child’s autonomy, hostility levels, and maternal support.
The maternal-child relationship did not strongly impact the findings. There was still a strong association between obesity and bedtimes. However, it is notable that the children who went to bed later and whose mother had the lowest sensitivity ratings were at highest risk for obesity.
Further, it was noted that children who went to bed later were of non-white ethnicity, lived in low-income households, and their mothers received less education.
Research in the past has positively linked a relationship between obesity and short sleep durations. One study associated later bedtimes with a five-year risk of obesity. This new study is the first to use information collected 10 years after preschool.
This team has performed a number of sleep-related studies, with prior research illustrating the importance of routines for young children, which was used to help build this current study. Dr. Anderson and her colleagues focused on bedtimes for this study because they have more influence on sleep duration than wake times, over which parents have very little control.
It is no guarantee that putting a child to bed earlier will mean they will fall into deep sleep right away; however, a consistent bedtime routine makes it more likely that the children will get plenty of sleep to perform to their highest potential during the day.
Pediatricians are now in a position to talk to parents about earlier bedtimes for their young children in order to help prevent obesity risk. This evidence-based research will also help pediatricians assist parents in overcoming obstacles they may be facing with their children, which may be related to their sleep duration and quality.
Earlier bedtimes may be more challenging for some families than others, especially when parents work later. There are competing demands and compromises that are constantly made in the home setting, which need to be considered when the pediatricians go to discuss the earlier bedtimes. Most children, however, are biologically programed to be ready for sleep before 9 p.m., so it may not be as difficult as some parents may feel in the beginning.
The researchers noted in their published findings that while this study helps identify a link to bedtimes and obesity, it does not answer the questions about how bedtime can influence other factors of weight gain like nutrition, physical activity, and social environment, all of which remain active areas of research.
Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.