a child eatingSleep is one of the most prominent factors contributing to our overall well-being, which is why researchers have increasingly examined the myriad ways in which sleep affect us. A new study has contributed to the body of sleep research by observing that toddlers who got less sleep consumed more calories later on. A lack of sleep in childhood could lead to obesity and other health problems later in life.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) conducted a study funded by Cancer Research UK. The data was drawn from 1303 families in the Gemini birth cohort. The research team monitored the sleep habits of children aged 16 months and followed up with the cohort at 21 months to gather data on the children’s diets.

Less sleep at 16 months of age was linked to increased caloric intake at 21 months. Children who slept less than ten hours per daily went on to consume an average of 105 kcal more per day than children who sleep 13 or more hours. This represents a ten percent increase in caloric intake (982 kcal to 10867 kcal).

Although a number of studies have observed a connection between sleep and calorie consumption, this study was the first to directly link the two for children younger than three. Sleep, or lack thereof, figures prominently in early childhood weight gain and energy intake is the key factor that supports this relationship. This may lead to obesity and other health problems later on, which is why it is important to understand how and why sleep affects weight gain. The exact causes are not yet known, but less sleep may be related to the disruption of appetite-related hormones.

“We know that shorter sleep in early life increases the risk of obesity, so we wanted to understand whether shorter sleeping children consume more calories … The key message here is that shorter sleeping children may [be] prone to consume to many calories,” concluded Dr. Abi Fisher of UCL’s Health Behavior Research Centre.

This research is published in the International Journal of Obesity.

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