700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Catching Zzzs: The Importance of Sleep in Managing a Child's Weight

Jan 22, 2019
Healthy Weight and Sleep

What is a healthy weight for my child?

In children, “healthy weight” is measured using the body mass index or BMI. It is a formula used to estimate how much body fat a person has compared to height. Children's BMI measurements are marked on standard growth charts rather than using a general normal range as is done with adults.

There's a big range of normal on the BMI chart. But too much body fat is a problem because it can lead to illnesses and other health problems. Think of BMI like a traffic light – where for a given height and age, the weight is either too much or not enough (red), a little too much (yellow) or just right (green).

How can I help my family achieve and maintain healthy weight?

We often think of a balanced plate and an exercise routine as the primary ways to achieve healthy weight. But, managing our feelings and getting enough rest are also important.

How do feelings affect weight?

Sometimes our feelings can affect our eating habits. For example, eating when we are worried or upset; or not eating because we are so sad or stressed. Feelings can impact our willingness to go outside to play and be with others.  Our feelings can also make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Other times our feelings make us want to lay down and sleep all day.  

Why is sleep important to healthy weight?

Certain body functions related to growth and metabolism have a rhythm that are established by the sleep-wake cycle. When we don’t sleep long enough or maintain a sleep routine, these rhythms are disrupted. This can lead to changes in appetite, exercise stamina and eventually weight gain. There’s also concern that the longer we stay awake, the more likely we are to look for something to eat or drink. Over time, this pattern of behavior can also lead to weight gain or make it difficult to lose weight.

Why is it important for children and adolescents to get enough sleep?

Sleep not only affects weight but is also affects mood and cognition. Toddlers and preschoolers who get enough sleep have fewer outbursts and tantrums. School aged children have improved academic performance, better memory and focus. Research suggests that teenagers who have inadequate or irregular sleep are more likely to engage in risk taking behaviors, have a higher incidence of accidents and are more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

How much sleep your child need, depends on age. The younger the child, the more sleep they need. In general, it’s recommended that toddlers and preschoolers get 10-14 hours of sleep per day, including naps; school age children and preteens, 9-12 hours of sleep per night; and teens in middle and high school at least 8 hours of sleep per night.

There are common concepts between achieving healthy weight, feeling good and getting adequate sleep – quality, quantity, and consistency. The quality of sleep and meal time are affected by the setting, presence of electronic devices, and/or use of substances (caffeine, prescribed medications, alcohol or other drugs). Monitor portion size and number of servings to ensure the right quantity is being offered.  And try to balance the plate to include at least three different food groups. Attempt to maintain consistency in bedtime and night time routine – even on the weekends. Similarly, attempt to eat at regular intervals to avoid being overly hunger. Fatigue and excessive hunger negatively impact food choices.

Talk with your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s weight, mood or sleep. To learn more about the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children's Hospital, click here or view our YouTube playlist.

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Dominique R. Williams, MD, MPH, FAAP, Dipl ABOM
Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.