Too Little Childhood Sleep Tied to Later Problems

WASHINGTON, April 7 (Reuters) - Getting too little sleep doubles a young child's risk of being overweight and raises the chances of later anxiety and depression, researchers said on Monday.

Several studies published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine add heft to the notion that getting enough sleep has wide-ranging health benefits.

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

In a study involving 915 children in Massachusetts, they found that those who slept less than 12 hours a day in the first two years of life were twice as likely to be overweight at age 3 than children who slept longer.

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

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

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

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

The researchers said previous studies in adults and older children have shown that restricting sleep changes certain hormone levels, possibly stimulating hunger and weight gain.

Emotional Fallout

Another team of researchers led by Alice Gregory of the University of London examined the long-term emotional fallout from too little sleep in childhood. They gathered sleep data on 2,076 Dutch children ages 4 to 16, and then questioned them as adults years later about various emotional and behavioral symptoms.

The children who slept less than others reported more anxiety, depression and aggressive behavior as adults, the researchers said.

Researchers led by Valerie Sung of Royal Children's Hospital in Parkville, Australia found that children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder commonly had sleep problems.

Among 239 Australian children ages 5 to 18 years with ADHD in the study, 73 percent had sleep problems. Their most common problems were difficulty falling asleep, resisting going to bed and 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 life and 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 your doctor for help, and if help is not forthcoming, keep asking and seek help from a specialist sleep clinic at your closest children's hospital," Sung said by e-mail.

(Editing by Maggie Fox)