A new study led by the University
College London has found that irregular sleeping patterns and
skipping breakfast could influence a child's weight gain.
The research found that children who did not have a regular bed time or got too little sleep, were at risk of gaining excess weight, challenging the view that fattening foods and sugary drinks are the main reason behind increasing childhood obesity rates.
Researchers studied over 19,000 families across Britain in order to ascertain whether or not a lack of sleep could contribute to a child's weight gain.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Prof Yvonne Kelly from UCL's department of epidemiology and public health said: "Disrupted routines, exemplified by irregular sleeping patterns and skipping breakfast, could influence weight gain through increased appetite and the consumption of energy-dense foods."
The study also found that being born to a mother who smoked was a contributing factor to a child's weight gain. The researchers concluded that the consumption of sugary drinks or the amount of television a child watched was not a strong predictor of unhealthy weight gain.
Our sleep expert, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, says: "Routine is key to children waking up refreshed and feeling ready for bed at a suitable time.
"The sooner you begin to reintroduce a sleeping rhythm, after several weeks of irregularity, the sooner all the family can fall back into a healthy sleeping pattern."
Nerina also provides some helpful tips for introducing a healthy sleeping routine.
1. Start to introduce technology-free time in the evenings
Research has shown that by having a constant stream of light enter our eyes before we go to sleep, we are actually telling our brains that we want to be awake. An hour or so before children go to bed, rule out any blue light. This means no TV, tablets or mobile phones. The bedroom should be a technology-free zone.
2. Gradually reintroduce earlier bedtimes
An ideal bedtime for pre-teens would be no later than 8.30pm, so gradually shift bedtime earlier over the course of a few days to allow children to adjust.
3. A calming pre-sleep routine
The few hours before bed can be just as important as actual bedtime. Relaxing baths with lavender, a milky drink or reading are great ways to help children wind down and feel ready for bed.
4. Have a chat
Heading back to school - or starting a new one - can be worrying for some children, and leave them feeling anxious. Talk to your child about any concerns they may have before bedtime, and encourage simple yoga or meditation by repeating a calming word or by helping them with their breathing techniques, including breathing deeply from the stomach.
5. Create a sleep-friendly bedroom
Bedrooms need to be sleep-friendly and this means a cool environment. Freshly laundered bedding, possibly lavender fragranced, can make the room feel very calming and relaxing. Again, technology-free bedrooms are a must!