If you are or have been the parent of a preschooler, you know bedtime can be a struggle. Sometimes you have to be the master negotiator, and sometimes it’s like playing a game of whack-a-mole. And on a few occasions you feel like you’re literally filming an episode of “Prison Break.”
But research now says all those seemingly endless evenings could be worth it.
A new study looked at mother-reported bedtimes of 977 preschool-age kids and found that those who went to bed after 9 p.m. were twice as likely to be obese later in life as the kids who went to bed by 8 p.m. The researchers checked in with the kids again when they turned 15 to measure their heights and weights.
Of the preschoolers who had gone to bed at or before 8 p.m., 10 percent were obese as teens. Of the preschoolers who went to bed between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., 16 percent were obese as teens. And of those who had gone to bed after 9 p.m. in preschool, 23 percent were obese at 15.
“Not getting enough sleep can result in changes in the hormones controlling appetite and metabolism,” study author Sarah Anderson, associate professor of epidemiology at The Ohio State University College of Public Health, told The Huffington Post. This relationship has been documented in several studies in adults, as well as in children.
“And children who have a regular early bedtime are more likely to get enough sleep,” Anderson said, stating a conclusion from a poll by the National Sleep Foundation poll of 1,473 parents and caregivers of kids 10 and younger.
Little ones who stay up late are more likely to be fussy, Lisa Medalie, director of the Pediatric Insomnia Program at the University of Chicago Medicine ― who was not involved in the study ― told NPR. “If they get too fussy and get overtired, then it actually makes it harder for them to sleep.”
Being obese as a kid sets you up for a host of other chronic health problems from diabetes to heart disease and a number of cancers, Anderson said. And research suggests kids who are severely obese rate their quality of life ― when it comes to their emotions and how well they function in school ― about the same as kids with cancer.
The new study suggests that going to bed by 8 p.m. is an actionable step parents can take to help their kids avoid becoming obese, Anderson said.
“It’s important to recognize that a consistent bedtime routine is more difficult for some families than others,” Anderson explained ― considering parents’ work schedules, home life, and other factors.
But, even accounting for the sociodemographic characteristics of the kids’ families in this study and the quality of the mother-child relationships, the kids who went to bed the latest still had the highest rates of obesity, she said.
Why sleep timing might affect obesity risk unclear
It’s worth pointing out that this study did not look at kids’ overall sleep times ― or whether or not naps during the day affected children’s obesity risk. And the results still do not explain why kids who went to bed later were more likely to be obese.
Many thoroughly conducted studies have shown, however, that longer total sleep for children is protective against obesity, Anderson said. The point of this study was to look specifically at whether or not kids’ bedtimes also played a role in obesity risk.
To help establish a bedtime (or an earlier bedtime), the National Sleep Foundation recommends repeating the exact same actions at the same time every night before going to bed and starting to wind down about 15 to 30 minutes before the actual bedtime routine starts.
Watch the Buzz60 video to learn more.
Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.