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Sedentary Behavior, Sleep, and Obesity in Children

Monday, August 10, 2009 Posted by Travis Saunders
Image by studentofrhythm.

It has been reported that up to 16% of children have a hard time falling asleep, resulting in shorter sleep duration.  That might not seem like such a big deal, but an increasing number of studies report that decreased sleep time is a risk factor for obesity.  Although the idea is still quite controversial, it is has been suggested that insufficient sleep is likely to affect the hormones that regulate hunger, resulting in increased food intake, and eventually obesity.  Reduced sleep time has also been associated with reduced cognitive performance. So in general, we want to make sure that kids are getting enough sleep, but how can we do that?

According to a new study (and common sense), increased physical activity may be one way to help kids get more sleep.  In this new study, published in Archives of Diseases in Childhood, Dr G.M. Nixon and colleagues examined the relationship between physical activity and sleep quality in a group of 519 children.  Physical activity was measured by accelerometer, which is the gold standard for large field studies such as this.  What did they find?  The more active children were, the less time it took them to fall asleep.  In contrast, the more time that children spent being sedentary, the longer it took them to fall asleep.  This is important, since the time it took to fall asleep was a strong predictor of total sleep duration.

When these findings are combined with other research, they suggest that sedentary behavior, reduced sleep quality, and obesity may be a vicious cycle.  When children are not sufficiently active they are likely to get less sleep.  This can result in further reductions in physical activity, increased caloric intake and weight gain.  This leads to even worse sleep quality and duration, and the whole cycle begins anew.  All the more reason to keep kids active (and minimize screen-time) right from the start!


Nixon, G., Thompson, J., Han, D., Becroft, D., Clark, P., Robinson, E., Waldie, K., Wild, C., Black, P., & Mitchell, E. (2009). Falling asleep: the determinants of sleep latency. Archives of Disease in Childhood DOI: 10.1136/adc.2009.157453

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1 Response to "Sedentary Behavior, Sleep, and Obesity in Children"

  1. Anonymous Said,

    Yet another reason to implement my strangely neglected scheme for putting hyper-active - and now, under-active children in treadmills where they can produce energy for all the househild needs, thus also paying back some of their maintenance expenses. Can't see why this doesn't catch on.........

    Posted on August 10, 2009 at 3:31 PM


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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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