Too Little Childhood Sleep Tied to Later Problems

Infants who don't sleep enough may be at risk of obesity and emotional problems.

Apr. 7, 2008— -- WASHINGTON, April 7 (Reuters) - Getting too little sleepdoubles a young child's risk of being overweight and raises thechances of later anxiety and depression, researchers said onMonday.

Several studies published in the journal Archives ofPediatrics & Adolescent Medicine add heft to the notion thatgetting enough sleep has wide-ranging health benefits.

Previous studies have shown that older children and adultswho get too little sleep are more likely to weigh too much.Researchers led by Dr. Elsie Taveras of Harvard Medical Schooldemonstrated that this is also the case in very young kids.

In a study involving 915 children in Massachusetts, theyfound that those who slept less than 12 hours a day in thefirst two years of life were twice as likely to be overweightat age 3 than children who slept longer.

Very young children need more sleep and those in this studyslept an average of 12.3 hours per day.

"There are consequences to children not sleeping well, evenat this age," Taveras said in a telephone interview. "It'sgoing to be important to help parents learn how to improve thequality of their children's sleep."

Television tended to make matters worse, with children whowatched two or more hours daily by age 2 more likely to beoverweight at age 3, the researchers said.

Taveras said getting enough sleep is becoming harder withtelevisions, computers and video games in kids' bedrooms.

The researchers said previous studies in adults and olderchildren have shown that restricting sleep changes certainhormone levels, possibly stimulating hunger and weight gain.

Emotional Fallout

Another team of researchers led by Alice Gregory of theUniversity of London examined the long-term emotional falloutfrom too little sleep in childhood. They gathered sleep data on2,076 Dutch children ages 4 to 16, and then questioned them asadults years later about various emotional and behavioralsymptoms.

The children who slept less than others reported moreanxiety, depression and aggressive behavior as adults, theresearchers said.

Researchers led by Valerie Sung of Royal Children'sHospital in Parkville, Australia found that children withattention-deficit hyperactivity disorder commonly had sleepproblems.

Among 239 Australian children ages 5 to 18 years with ADHDin the study, 73 percent had sleep problems. Their most commonproblems were difficulty falling asleep, resisting going to bedand tiredness upon waking, Sung said.

Compared to other children with ADHD but no sleep problems,these children were more likely to have poorer quality of lifeand daily functioning, as well as poorer school attendance.

Sung offered advice to families of children with ADHD.

"If you are worried about your child's sleep, ask yourdoctor for help, and if help is not forthcoming, keep askingand seek help from a specialist sleep clinic at your closestchildren's hospital," Sung said by e-mail.

(Editing by Maggie Fox)