Toddlers who get too little sleep tend to eat more and are at increased risk for obesity, a new study indicates.
The study included children in over 1,300 British families who had their sleep measured when they were 16 months old and their diet checked when they were 21 months old.
Those who slept less than 10 hours a day consumed about 10 percent more calories than those who slept more than 13 hours, according to the study in the International Journal of Obesity.
This is the first study to link amount of sleep to calorie consumption in children younger than 3 years, the University College London (UCL) researchers said. They suggested that shorter sleep may disrupt the regulation of appetite 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,” Dr. Abi Fisher, of the Health Behavior Research Centre at UCL, said in a university news release.
“Previous studies in adults and older children have shown that sleep loss causes people to eat more, but in early life parents make most of the decisions about when and how much their children eat, so young children cannot be assumed to show the same patterns,” she added.
Although the study found an association between toddler’s sleeping less and eating more, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The main message from the study “is that shorter-sleeping children may [be] prone to consume too many calories. Although more research is needed to understand why this might be, it is something parents should be made aware of,” Fisher concluded.