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New Study: Toddlers Who Sleep Less Eat More

Caucasian boy sleeping on vinyl sofa.
Photograph by Getty Images/Ron Chapple Studios RF

We know from experience that when we don't get enough sleep, we sometimes overcompensate and eat more food. But is the same true for young children or even toddlers?

Previous assumptions have been that young kids have little control over their eating habits because their parents are feeding them. However, a new study shows that lack of sleep in toddlers could contribute to weight gain.

The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, found that 16-month-olds who slept for fewer than 10 hours a day ate one-tenth more calories than toddlers who got more than 13 hours of sleep each day.

While one-tenth doesn't sound like a lot, at that age and weight, that can make a big difference, say researchers. The extra calories mean they face a higher risk of becoming obese later on in life.

Researchers at the University College London studied the sleeping and eating habits of 1,300 sets of twins for five months. While the exact cause of the increase in calorie consumption can't be confirmed, the researchers "suggested that regulation of appetite hormones may become disrupted by shorter sleeping patterns." Others propose that tired children are more likely to look to food to give them a needed energy boost.

Researchers plan on digging deeper into the issue to discover the exact reasons for the increased calorie intake but say that parents should be aware of the risks and make sure their children are getting enough sleep early on.

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