Babies who don't get enough shut-eye and who watch too much TV could end up struggling with weight problems, anxiety and depression later in life.
It's long been known that sleep deprivation is linked to weight gain in older children, but this is the first time a study has made that same connection with infants. Dr Elsie Taveras, assistant professor in Harvard Medical School's Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention in the US and lead author of one of two studies, says, "Mounting research suggests that decreased sleep time may be more hazardous to our health than we imagined. We are now learning that those hazardous effects are true even for young infants."
Both studies, published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, examined the health effects of sleep deprivation. The first study monitored 915 pairs of mothers and infants; the infant's weight and measurements were taken several times over a three-year period and their mothers recorded how many hours they slept, along with how much TV they watched.
The second study, carried out by Dr Alice Gregory from the University of London in England, examined the ways in which lack of sleep affected children aged between four and 16.
Want your child to lead a healthy, well-balanced life? It seems the answer is simple just send them to bed! The researchers found that babies and toddlers who sleep for less than 12 hours a day are twice as likely to be overweight as those who slept for longer by the time they're three . Older children who struggled to get a good night's rest were more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and aggressive behaviour in early adulthood.
Sleep deprivation interferes with the hormones that control hunger and the feeling of fullness after a meal, so it makes sense that addressing a child's sleep patterns is the first step to regulating a child's weight.
How do you help your child get some extra shut-eye? According to Dr Taveras, getting rid of the TV and computer is a good start. "Getting more sleep is becoming more and more difficult with TV, Internet and video games in the rooms where children sleep," she says. "Our findings suggest that parents may wish to employ proven sleep hygiene techniques, such as removing TVs from bedrooms, to improve sleep quality and perhaps sleep duration."