ADHD News & Research

Lack of Sleep Linked to Childhood Obesity, Study Finds

Sleep problems and obesity — both of which frequently appear alongside ADHD — regularly go hand in hand, according to a new study of children.

April 18, 2018

Children who regularly sleep less than the recommended number of hours for their age group are more likely to become obese later in life, according to a large new study1 from the University of Warwick.

The meta-analysis, published earlier this month in the journal Sleep, examined the results from 42 studies from around the globe, covering a total of more than 75,000 children between the ages of 0 and 18. The children were split into two groups — “short sleepers” and “regular sleepers” — based on their adherence to the most recent National Sleep Foundation guidelines, and were followed for an average of 3 years to assess how their BMIs changed over time.

Across age groups, children who were “short sleepers” — meaning they regularly got less sleep than was recommended for their age group — were significantly more likely to gain more weight than were their “regular sleeper” peers. Overall, children who slept less than they should were 58 percent more likely to become overweight or obese, the researchers said.

“The results showed a consistent relationship across all ages indicating that the increased risk is present in both younger and older children,” said co-author Michelle Miller. “The study also reinforces the concept that sleep deprivation is an important risk factor for obesity, detectable very early on in life.”

The study didn’t factor in ADHD, but attention issues have long been linked to both sleep problems and an increased risk for obesity, experts say.

“A brain that’s constantly whirring will find it hard to ‘shut down’ at the end of the day and fall asleep, so it’s no surprise that ADHD brings with it fitful or disordered sleep,” said Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D. “And a wealth of research finds that sleep deprivation is a large factor in promoting obesity.”

The study’s authors emphasize the importance of sleep education “to empower parents and children.” Practicing good sleep hygiene — including shutting off electronics an hour before bed or embarking on a nightly bedtime routine — can help children with ADHD get more sleep, experts say. According to this survey’s findings, more sleep may result in improved weight and overall health.

1 Miller, Michelle A, et al. “Sleep Duration and Incidence of Obesity in Infants, Children, and Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies.” Sleep, vol. 41, no. 4, 1 Apr. 2018, doi:10.1093/sleep/zsy018.