That’s because each additional hour of sleep children get at night is associated with a lower body weight, more lean muscle mass and less accumulation of sugars in the blood, researchers report in Pediatrics. Obesity and elevated blood sugar are risk factors for type 2 diabetes, which happens when the body can’t properly use or make enough of the hormone insulin to convert blood sugar into energy.
“These findings suggest increasing sleep duration could offer a simple, cost-effective approach to reducing levels of body fat and type 2 diabetes risk early in life,” senior study author Christopher Owen of St. George’s, University of London, said by email.
Kids 6 to 12 years old should get 9 to 12 hours of sleep a night, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children who got less sleep in the study were more likely to have a risk factor for diabetes known as insulin resistance, when the body doesn’t respond normally to the hormone . They were also more likely to be extremely overweight or obese and have more body fat, the study also found.
“When kids are going to bed very late or sleeping on an irregular schedule, they may also be skipping meals, eating at irregular times, or be less likely to exercise during the day,” according to Stacey Simon, a pediatric sleep psychologist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Insufficient sleep can affect levels of hormones that control appetite, making kids hungrier and increasing cravings for sweet and salty snacks, said James Gangwisch, a psychiatry researcher at Columbia University in New York who wasn’t involved in the study.“Getting enough sleep helps keep our appetite in check and is protective against insulin resistance,” Gangwisch added.