Poor sleep in children linked to development of diabetes later in life

A latest UK study has found that deficiency of adequate sleep in children could be linked to their risk of developing diabetes later in life.

The study notes that every extra hour of sleep a child gets per night is associated with a lower body weight and increased lean muscle mass and less blood sugar.

The study is published this week in the journal Pediatrics.

There is enough evidence that obesity and increased blood sugar are linked to development of type 2 diabetes. In this type of diabetes the body cannot regulate the blood sugar by utilizing the hormone insulin.

Image Credit: Sirtravelalot / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Sirtravelalot / Shutterstock

The blood sugar fails to be controlled and this causes a myriad of complications. Type 2 diabetes, which was more of a disease of the middle aged only a decade ago, is now a menace for children as well with the growing rates of childhood obesity, say experts. This is more due to the lack of physical exercise among children and also increase in fat and sugar intake in diet.

In this study the team of researchers looked at data on the sleep habits and the laboratory reports that indicated diabetes risk for 4,525 children aged 9 or 10 in the United Kingdom.

They found that children of this age group on an average slept for 10.5 hours on school nights with a range of 8 to 12 hours for the study group.

While connecting the sleep patterns with the diabetes risk, they found that the children who were getting less sleep were the ones more likely to have risk factors for diabetes. Notably they had what is called insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is a state where the pancreas might be secreting adequate amounts of insulin but the body fails to utilize this hormone adequately to convert the sugars in diet into energy. This leads to an accumulation of the sugars and leads to development of diabetes.

Presence of insulin resistance markers is a clear indicator of future risk of development of diabetes.

The study revealed that the children who slept less were the ones who were extremely overweight or obese and had more body fat than those who got adequate sleep.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations children between ages of 6 and 12 should get 9 to 12 hours of sleep a night.

Lack of adequate sleep is linked to high blood pressure, depression, obesity and also increased risk of injuries.

Some of the limitations of this study were the fact that it was not a controlled experiment and the data from the children about their sleep habits was mostly on the basis of recall. This might not be an accurate picture of how much sleep they actually got.

Christopher G. Owen, a study co-author and a professor of epidemiology at St. George’s, University of London explained that there has been evidence of this link in the past.

This study was a quantified look at the association between lack of sleep and diabetes risk among children.

This study also brings forth the fact that more and more children are not getting adequate sleep he added. He explained that the take-home message from this study was that children should be encouraged to have healthy sleeping habits from an early age.

This could be a low cost and simple intervention that could protect the child from diabetes later in life.

The Sleep Cycle

The sleep cycle is divided into two parts;

  • Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep divided into three stages with stages 1 and 2 being light and stage 3 being deep
  • Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – dreams occur during this stage.

Each cycle lasts around 1½ hours and all stages must be experienced to wake up rested. A good night’s sleep means five or six of these cycles. An average adult needs 7-8 hours sleep per night but this may vary from person to person. Older adults tend to sleep less.

New-born babies sleep for 18-21 hours per day while toddler and 3-5 years olds sleep 11-13 hours per day. Children between 6 and 12 years need 11 hours sleep while teenagers need 9-11 hours sleep.

“Sleep hygiene” is a term that describes good sleep habits that help good sleep.

Some of the methods that could be adopted for a better night’s sleep include;

  • Limiting screen time before bed
  • Bed time routine should be consistent throughout the week
  • Avoidance of caffeine and caffeine containing foods and drinks later in the day
  • Avoid naps during the day
  • Avoid alcohol before going to bed
  • Exercise regularly but not before bed time. Strenuous exercise within two hours of sleep will disrupt sleep
  • Comfortable sleep ambience


Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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