(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – The later preschoolers go to bed at night, the more likely it is that they will become obese as teenagers, according to a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics. “We found that among preschoolers who went to bed at 8 pm or earlier, only one in 10 were obese as teenagers,” said Sarah Anderson, PhD, lead author of the study from The Ohio State University College of Public Health. “However, among those who went to bed at 9 pm or later, the obesity rates more than doubled during their teenage years. That’s a significant difference.”
Researchers charted the size and weight of nearly a thousand children for more than a decade. Generally, they found that each hour preschoolers stayed up after 8 pm, obesity rates jumped by about 6 percent in teenage years. Only 10 percent of those who went to bed at 8 pm or before were obese as teens. The rate jumped to 16 percent in preschoolers who went to bed between 8 and 9 pm, and shot up to 23 percent in those who went to bed at 9 pm or later.
“This just shows you what a difference an hour can make and why it’s so important to make sure your children develop good, healthy sleep habits,” said Dr. Meena Khan, a sleep specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Children who stay up later often snack on high calorie foods, many watch TV, or use phones or tablets in their bedrooms, which further disrupts their sleep cycle,” she said. “We’re still learning how all of this impacts our overall health, but there might even be changes in metabolism and hormones that lead to obesity,” said Khan.
Experts say preschoolers need at least 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night, and getting any less can affect a child’s appetite, weaken their immune system and often leads to poor grades due to fatigue and an inability to concentrate.