It Takes Only One Hour to Raise Your Child’s Risk of Diabetes, According to Science

One hour of sleep could mean the difference between a healthy child and one with a chronic disease.

All parents know it can take more than the best bedtime story books to get kids to go to sleep. But it’s worth taking the time and making the effort to ensure your little ones spend long enough in the land of nod. Not just so you get a well-deserved break, but for their own health and wellness. A new study takes the health benefits one step further.

According to recent research published in the journal Pediatrics, kids who sleep for an extra hour during the week have a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and are also less likely to become obese. In a cross-sectional study of U.K. children by Alicja R. Rudnicka, PhD, of St George’s University of London, and colleagues in Pediatrics, the team found a 2.9 percent reduction in insulin resistance and 0.24 percent lower fasting glucose in kids who slept for just one additional hour during the week. Be on the lookout for the signs your child might have diabetes.

“This confirms the association between short sleep duration and body fatness,” wrote Rudnicka’s group, as reported on MedPage Today. “Given the rising prevalence of diabetes worldwide and especially in low- to middle-income countries, we believe our findings will help motivate further simple, pragmatic trials in this area.”

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The data studied came from the The Child Heart and Health Study in England (CHASE), involving 4,525 children age 9 to 10 years. The study cohort included 200 state primary schools in London, Birmingham, and Leicester—half with a high prevalence of U.K. South Asian children and half with U.K. black African-Caribbean children. The children were asked two questions: “What time do you usually go to bed on schooldays?” and “What time do you usually get up in the morning on schooldays?” Children got an average of 10.5 hours of sleep per night, with girls and slightly younger kids sleeping for longer. Those who slept longer were, on average, shorter, and had lower body weight, lower levels of fat mass index, and lower skin fold thickness.

Several studies have explored the ways sleep may affect insulin and metabolism. “There is some evidence that sleep deprivation could lead to pre-diabetic state,” says Mark Mahowald, MD, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Hennepin County, as reported on WebMD. According to Mahowald, the body’s reaction to sleep loss can resemble insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. In insulin resistance, cells fail to use the hormone efficiently, resulting in high blood sugar.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of kids with obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s, and today, about 1 in 5 school-aged children has obesity. (Do school lunches cause obesity? The jury’s still out.) In the United States, about 208,000 people younger than 20 years are living with diagnosed diabetes, and rates of new diagnosed cases of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in youths are increasing.

In an editorial accompanying the research results, Nicole Glaser, MD, and Dennis Styne, MD from University of California Davis, wrote that the study “brings us a step closer to understanding the relationship between sleep, obesity, and the metabolic syndrome. These data are important because they confirm that the relationship between sleep, obesity, and the metabolic syndrome is unlikely to simply reflect lifestyle variables—such as activity level, screen time, or parental vigilance—and instead reflect more complex relationships that must be explored.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation, school-age kids should sleep 9 to 11 hours per night, although anything between 7 and 12 hours “may be appropriate” because “every child is slightly different in terms of how much sleep they need.” Here’s the single best way to get a better night’s sleep, according to experts.

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