The value of a good night’s sleep is becoming more and more evident as studies increasingly identify health risks associated with a lack of sleep. Several recent studies have shown how sleep deprivation leads to overweight and obesity in adults and older children and now a study led by Elsie Taveras, MD, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention, points to the same link between sleep and overweight toddlers and infants.

TV and lack of sleep may increase risk of obesityUp to the age of 3, infants and toddlers need about 12 hours of sleep each day. Children who don’t get 12 hours sleep a day are twice as prone to be overweight by the age of 3 than children who get enough sleep.

When excessive TV time is added to the sleep deprivation, 3-year-old toddlers have a 16% chance of being overweight. An excessive amount of television for this age group is identified as two or more hours, for the purpose of this study.

Data was gathered from Project Viva, a long-term investigation into the diet and lifestyle factors that influence health of mother and child over an extended period of time. The project involves 915 mother-infant study pairs.

For Project Viva, babies were weighed and measured at intervals until the child reached the age of 3. Mothers reported the number of hours their child slept each day and the number of hours of TV time the child enjoyed on weekdays and during the weekends. These in-person assessments were conducted when the child reached age 6 months and again at ages 1, 2, and 3.

Overweight children face the same health issues as their older siblings and their parents. Regardless of age, excess weight gain raises the risk for obesity, asthma, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and type 2 diabetes.

Taveras urges parents to pay attention to beneficial sleep hygiene techniques to improve or maintain the health of their smallest children. Removing TVs, computers, and video games from the rooms of children of all ages is thought to promote a fuller night’s sleep and optimum health.

This study received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program, and the National Institutes of Health. Full details are available in Vol. 162, 4 of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.