No attempt to achieve and maintain a healthy weight through lifestyle changes -- such as drinking more water and walking -- is complete until we consider the vital role of getting ample sleep.
One of my clearest memories from early childhood was the feeling of complete despair when my mother would inevitably declare it was "time to go to sleep." Although the reasons for wanting to stay awake change as we mature, it still seems there are never enough hours in the day. Setting aside work, homework, play, surfing the web or whatever we might be doing to make time for a decent night's sleep can be difficult for many -- including yours truly!
Don't get me wrong. Despite a career that requires me to be both a "morning person" and occasionally a night owl, I find myself fondly reminiscing about what it must be like to get "enough" sleep when trying to arouse my two teenage sons from their beds on any given weekend morning. Most surgeons are up at 5:30 a.m. in anticipation of a 7:30 a.m. start time in the operating room.
Although taking time to get adequate sleep seems to run counter to our on-the-go society complete with 24-hour supermarkets, streaming video and the Internet of everything, a number of recent studies have highlighted ample rest's beneficial effects, especially for kids. That includes the impact on maintaining a healthy weight.
In a recent study of Latino children published by the University of California--San Francisco in the journal Sleep Medicine, researchers investigated the association between sleep duration -- how many hours subjects slept -- weight gain and body mass index, or BMI, during the two-year study time period.
Results showed that children in the study who routinely failed to achieve "adequate sleep" -- defined as 10 to 11 hours per night for 5- to 12-year-olds -- were statistically more likely to gain weight, as compared to children who got adequate sleep. The findings support the hypothesis of several larger studes that have identified an association between inadequate sleep and an increased risk for obesity.
Furthermore, children who do not get enough sleep have been shown to have a higher probability of developing several obesity-related health conditions, an increased likelihood of engaging in high risk behaviors, such as drinking and smoking, and poor school performance. By focusing on the Latino population, the study also serves to highlight the increased risk of obesity among certain ethnic sub-populations in the U.S.
So how much sleep should we be getting on a day-to-day basis, and how do the current recommendations compare with what many of us have always believed to be true: that 8 hours of sleep per night is guaranteed to do the trick?
Not surprisingly, the recommendations developed by a multidisciplinary panel of experts and recently published in Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation are directed at specific age groups. The panel agreed that among healthy individuals with normal sleep -- those without an identified sleep disorder -- newborns, infants and toddlers need the most sleep, between 14 and 17 hours, 12 and 15 hours and 11 and 14 hours, respectively. Pre-schoolers, school-age children 6 to 13-years-old and 14- to 17-year-olds need less, between 10 and 13 hours, 9 and 11 hours and 8 to 10 hours, respectively. Younger adults, on the other hand, should strive to achieve 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, while older adults may be able to get by with a bit less, needing 7 to 8 hours per night.
While there is plenty of debate on potentially effective means to improve the average sleep tally of school-aged children, including calls to modify the school start time to no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and behavioral tips that may make going to bed easier, there are a number of helpful tips that individuals and families can work on to improve the situation right now.
To start, parents should look at developing a set routine and bed time for children that satisfies sleep recommendations. Consider different age-related sleep goals in homes where two or more children share a room.
Then, take steps to ensure that the house, and more specifically the bedroom, are conducive to sleep. Limit the ambient noise outside of the bedroom, including sounds coming from a television, computer and other electronic devices being used by other members of the household. Also, set expectations and reinforce behaviors that reduce or even eliminate the use of personal electronics after the lights go out.
Bottom line: Maintaining a healthy weight can be a complex issue for both adults and kids. Recognizing some important basic behaviors, like ensuring that you and your children get a good night's sleep, can result in numerous health benefits, including a healthier weight. So when it's time to turn in, make sure to turn everything off and get to bed.