According to new research, getting the proper amount of sleep starting in early childhood can lead to healthier weight in a child’s teenaged years.
Researchers at Penn State identified groups of children by bedtime and sleep routines. What they found suggests that childhood bedtime and sleep routine groups predict adolescent sleep patterns and weight.
In a national study of urban households, one-third of children consistently adhered to age-appropriate bedtimes for ages 5 through 9. Those who had no bedtime routine at age 9 had shorter self-reported sleep duration and higher BMI at age 15, when compared to those children with age-appropriate bedtimes.
“Parenting practices in childhood affect physical health and BMI in the teenage years. Developing a proper routine in childhood is crucial for the future health of the child,” said co-author Orfeu Buxton, professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, and director of the Sleep, Health, and Society Collaboratory at Penn State. “We think sleep affects physical and mental health, and the ability to learn.”
Bedtimes should be determined by various factors, such as when the child has to wake up based on the time it takes for that child to get ready for school, and the time it takes to get to school, as well as the school start time. School start times aren’t determined by parents, but bedtimes and bedtime routines can be adjusted by parents, suggests Buxton.
“Giving children the time frame to get the appropriate amount of sleep is paramount,” Buxton said, as achieving recommended duration of sleep can have an impact on BMI in adolescent years, according to the findings.
Bedtime should provide enough of a “window” for the child to get an appropriate amount of sleep, even if the child doesn’t fall asleep right away, said Buxton.
This study shows continuity in sleep behaviors, Lee said, in that those who had most optimal bedtime and sleep routines during childhood also had sufficient sleep duration in adolescence, whereas those with suboptimal bedtime and sleep routines had insufficient sleep duration in adolescence, she said.
Lee said future studies should focus on whether childhood sleep behavior interventions promote healthier sleep and weight in later life course stages.