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How Sleep Habits Affect Healthy Weight

Contributors: Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND

Reviewers: Academy Nutrition Information Services Team

Published: February 26, 2020

Reviewed: February 19, 2024

sleeping kid

If you think your child gets enough sleep, you could be wrong. Kids may need more sleep than their parents realize.

Sacrificing Sleep

Emerging research suggests that sleep plays an important role, just like nutrition and physical activity, when it comes to your child's health — and we're talking about more than colds and the flu. Scientists aren't sure why, but too little sleep is linked with both gaining extra weight and developing Type 2 diabetes. Researchers have observed this effect on body weight in kids of all ages — even infants, toddlers and preschoolers. One theory for weight gain is that inadequate sleep disrupts hormone levels that regulate appetite and food intake. Thus, too little sleep means bigger portions of foods and more snacking.

When kids are overextended in activities, weighed down with homework, constantly texting or plugged into the internet and other technology, something has to give. Unfortunately, it's frequently an hour or two of shut-eye that gets knocked off the priority list. Sleepy kids lack the energy and focus for playing outside and doing schoolwork. They're more likely to sit in front of the television where they burn few calories and challenge neither their minds nor their bodies.

Make Sleep a Priority

If parents don't make sleep a priority for themselves, their kids likely won’t either.

Here are some things you can do to help kids sleep better and longer:

  • Limit after-school clubs and sports to a manageable amount.
  • Set and enforce regular bedtimes.
  • Limit or cut out non-essential activities on school days, such as watching TV, using the computer, playing video games and texting.
  • Keep phones out of the bedroom.
  • Create a routine of doing quiet, calming activities with your kids roughly 30 minutes before bedtime. Examples include reading, listening to music or talking about their day to help them wind down and prepare for sleep.
  • Set priorities for young children and help older children set their own.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Sleep Foundation, sleep needs vary by age and decrease as children get older. Below is a range of sleep needs per age:

Newborn infants: 0 to 2 months  14 to 17 hours (includes naps)
Infants: 4 to 12 months 12 to 16 hours (includes naps)
Toddlers: 1 to 2 years
11 to 14 hours (includes naps)
Preschoolers: 3 to 5 years 10 to 13 hours (includes naps)
School-age children: 6 to 12 years 9 to 12 hours
Teens: 13 to 18 years 8 to 10 hours
Adults: 18 and older 7 to 9 hours

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