A new study has found that children and teens may be missing out on sleep due to a combination of unhealthy foods, not enough exercise, and too much screen time.
Carried out by researchers at Harokopio University, Greece, and Rutgers University, USA, the new large-scale study looked at 177,091 Greek children age 8 to 17 years and assessed their dietary habits, hours spent sleeping, physical activity status, and sedentary activities.
The team also measured the children’s physical fitness levels and recorded their height, weight, and waist circumference and body mass index (BMI).
The findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, showed that around 40 percent of schoolchildren failed to get enough sleep, with insufficient sleep duration more common among males than females, 42.3 percent versus 37.3 percent.
More children than teens also reported not getting enough sleep (42.1 percent versus 32.8 percent) with insufficient sleep for children defined as sleeping less than nine hours per day, and for adolescents sleeping fewer than eight hours per day.
As to the causes of insufficient sleep, the team found that across both males and females and all age ranges unhealthy lifestyle habits including unhealthy dietary habits, such as skipping breakfast, eating fast-food, and consuming sweets regularly, too much screen time, and being overweight or obese were all associated with a lack of sleep.
Adolescents with an insufficient sleep duration also had lower aerobic fitness and physical activity.
“The most surprising finding was that aerobic fitness was associated with sleep habits,” said senior author Labros Sidossis, PhD. “In other words, better sleep habits were associated with better levels of aerobic fitness. We can speculate that adequate sleep results in higher energy levels during the day. Therefore, children who sleep well are maybe more physically active during the day and hence have higher aerobic capacity.”
“Insufficient sleep duration among children constitutes an understated health problem in Westernized societies,” Sidossis said. “Taking into consideration these epidemiologic findings, parents, teachers and health professionals should promote strategies emphasizing healthy sleeping patterns for school-aged children in terms of quality and duration.”
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep nine to 12 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health, while teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep eight to 10 hours. JB