October 25, 2006
Electronic Distractions Reduce Sleep In Children To Cause Obesity?

Are electronic gadgets in the environments of children so reducing their sleep that they are becoming fat as a result?

Soaring levels of obesity might be linked to children sleeping fewer hours at night than they used to, claims Dr Shahrad Taheri of the University of Bristol.

Dr Taheri, reporting in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, blames the increasing availability of computers, mobile phones, TVs and other such gadgets on the diminishing nightly quota of sleep, and suggests they should be banned from children's bedrooms.

Dr Taheri cites the emerging body of research on the impact on the body of a fall in the nightly quota of sleep, which reflects circumstances in real life, rather than sustained sleep deprivation, which tends to be more extreme.

This research shows that shorter sleep duration disturbs normal metabolism, which may contribute to obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Even two to three nights of shortened sleep can have profound effects, the laboratory data suggest.

One study indicated that insufficient sleep at the age of 30 months was associated with obesity at the age of seven, suggesting that this could programme the part of the brain regulating appetite and energy expenditure, says Dr Taheri.

But it is also a problem for teenagers in whom the need for sleep increases during this critical developmental period, he says.

Another piece of research shows that levels of leptin, a hormone produced by fat tissue when energy stores are low, were more than 15% lower in those sleeping five hours compared with those clocking up eight.

Similarly, ghrelin, a hormone released by the stomach to signal hunger was almost 15% higher in those with a five hour sleep quota.

We did not evolve in the modern environments which we have created. Just because we can put gadgets in our environment and on the surface those gadgets seem harmless that does not mean we can handle the presence of those gadgets without cost to our good health and well being. We need to adapt our technological environments to the needs of our minds and bodies.

Some day we'll be able to use genetic engineering and gene therapies to adapt humanity to our technological environments. But that day is still a long way off. We need to better adapt our environments to our needs as we exist today until we gain the ability to reengineer our bodies and minds.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 October 25 10:53 PM  Brain Appetite

Ryan said at October 28, 2006 11:40 AM:

Is the argument here that kids will just stay up longer if they have electric gadgets? Or is there some property of electric devices that causes less sleep/more restless sleep? Maybe it was in the article and I just missed it because (amusingly) I didn't get enough sleep last night.

Randall Parker said at October 28, 2006 11:45 AM:


They just stay up longer and watch TV, listen to music, play video games, talk on the phone, and send instant messages.

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