Children who get short sleep are more likely to be obese and develop diabetes

Children who have poor sleep habits are more likely to be obese and are at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study from University of Chicago researchers.

The team of investigators reported in the journal Pediatrics that obese children sleep fewer hours on average than children of normal weight. Additionally, while healthy weight youths tend to make up any sleep they lost on school nights during the weekend, obese children are less likely to do so. Overall sleep patterns were less predictable among obese children.

The researchers also found that a range of metabolic risk factors emerged in individuals who got less sleep. These participants were more likely to have abnormal insulin, cholesterol and C-reactive protein levels.

All of these conditions greatly increase a person's risk for developing type 2 diabetes. C-reactive protein is considered a marker of inflammation in the body. Individuals who have high levels of inflammation are prone to experiencing metabolic disorders. The condition can irritate tissue, making it less sensitive to insulin. Given the fact that children who slept less already had low levels of insulin, this could make them much more prone to diabetes.

"Obese children were less likely to experience 'catch-up' sleep on weekends, and the combination of shorter sleep duration and more-variable sleep patterns was associated with adverse metabolic outcomes," the researchers wrote in their report.

They concluded that educational programs should be aimed at parents to help them encourage their children to practice good sleep habits. They said that this could result in longer sleep duration, which may reduce the burden of metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes in children.