Getting in the habit of getting a good night’s sleep in childhood is key to their gut health, and, in turn, their overall health – for years to come, a new study suggests.
Good sleep has gotten harder and harder to come by, especially for children growing up in an era of constant blue light from cell phone and tablet screens.
But fight as a child might to stay up just a little longer, moms are right: rest really is best for healthy kids.
A small Canadian study published today found that getting enough sleep is key to a healthy gut microbiome, which in turn helps to protect children from obesity, diabetes and heart problems for years to come.
Children who get more sleep when they’re younger have better gut microbiome diversity as teenagers, lowering their risks of all manner of health problems, a new study suggests
About a third of children in the US are overweight or obese, raising their lifelong risks for continued obesity, diabetes and heart disease, to name just a few of their potential health risks.
More and more research is pointing to the central role of gut bacteria to overall health.
In particular, scientists have linked better diets to more diverse gut microbiota and more diverse microbiota to healthier weights.
And even more recently, studies have suggested that this microbiome starts to take shape in the earliest years of childhood and carries through the rest of a person’s life.
But the microbiome’s development, scientists suspect, depends on much more than just what a child eats.
Following this hypothesis, researchers at CHU Sainte-Justine in Montreal decided to follow a small group of children for eight years.
They tracked the eating, exercise and sleep habits of 22 children, taking final measures of their gut bacteria when the kids reached ages between 15 and 17 – depending when they entered the study.
As teenagers, the populations of bacteria in their guts varied widely, but weren’t entirely determined by their diets.
The more fit children were when they were between 10- and 12-years-old, the more diverse their microbiomes were half a decade later.
Diet and sleep habits during their tenth to twelfth years had the strongest connection the children’s later gut health.
Those who ate a lot of either dietary or saturated fat (or both) were much less likely to have the wide array of gut bacteria that are a hallmark of a healthy gut.
The scientists established nearly as strong a connection to sleep and gut health as they did to diet.
Sleeping longer seemed to encourage diverse species to grow and thrive in children’s guts, bolstering their digestive systems and overall health.
‘These preliminary findings reveal that not just diet, but other lifestyle factors including low fitness levels and poor sleep behavior are likely involved in the development of an “unhealthier” gut microbiome, which may increase the risk of children developing more serious conditions in later life,’ said lead study author Dr Melanie Henderson.
It’s well known that the childhood obesity epidemic is threatening health of future generations of Americans, but the study’s findings underscore the need to attend to another ‘epidemic’: sleeplessness in the US.
People all over the world, Americans in particular, and teenagers especially, are chronically underslept, sleep and public health experts have warned.
Some – including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Psychological Association (APA) – have even called for school start times to be moved back, and at least one state, California, is seriously considering implementing a policy to that effect.
The APA says that adolescents need nine and a quarter hours of sleep a night, and the new study suggests that the earlier good bedtime habits start, the better children’s overall health may be as they enter their teenage years, and perhaps beyond.