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Jun 09, 2014 04:27 PM EDT

Getting Enough Sleep May Prevent Child Obesity

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It is imperative for both parent and child to get enough sleep to prevent child obesity, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University of Illinois found that more parental sleep is relation to more child sleep, which is related to decreased child obesity.

They suggest limiting children's exposure to TV and other electronic devices to two hours a day and turning them off a half-hour before bedtime, spending some time in a calming, predictable routine, such as giving the child a bath or reading together; and making sure preschoolers are in bed in time to get the recommended 10 hours of sleep a night. Adults should also follow a calming routine.

"Parents should make being well rested a family value and a priority. Sleep routines in a family affect all the members of the household, not just children; we know that parents won't get a good night's sleep unless and until their preschool children are sleeping," Barbara H. Fiese, director of the University of Illinois's Family Resiliency Center and Pampered Chef Endowed Chair, said in a statement.

Fiese added that the effects of sleeplessness go beyond just being tired the next day. Studies show that moms, dads, and their children are likely to gain weight as they lose sleep.

For the study, socioeconomic characteristics were assessed in relation to protective routines and prevalence of being obese or overweight for more than 300 preschool children and their parents. The routines assessed in parents included adequate sleep (at least seven hours) and family mealtime routine. The four protective routines assessed in children were adequate sleep (10 or more hours per night), family mealtime routine, limiting screen-viewing time to less than two hours a day, and not having a bedroom TV.

Based on their findings, the only significant individual protective factor against obesity or overweight in children was getting adequate sleep. Children who did not get enough sleep had a greater risk for being overweight than children who engaged in at least three of the protective routines regularly, even after controlling for parents' body mass index and socio-demographic characteristics.

But the researchers also learned that the number of hours a parent sleeps is related to how much sleep children are getting, so that a parent's sleep has an effect on the likelihood that their children will be overweight or obese.

"We viewed how long parents slept and how long children slept as part of a household routine and found that they really did go together," Fiese said.

She noted that inadequate sleep is not just a problem for preschoolers but for elementary school children and high school students whose brains are still developing. Adults don't function well on inadequate sleep either, she noted.

The findings were recently published in the April 2014 issue of Frontiers in Psychology.

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