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Florida Researchers to Evaluate New Sleep Treatment Program for Children who are Overweight

Inadequate sleep and weight problems in children are closely linked, with an estimated 60 to 90 percent of children who have shortened or disrupted sleep being at increased risk for obesity.

University of Florida researchers have received a $384,000 grant from the National Lung, Blood and Heart Institute to examine a non-medication sleep treatment program for 6- to 12-year-olds who are overweight. The study, which begins this fall, is one of the first of its kind to focus on sleep treatment for children who are overweight and their families.

The study is led by Dr. David Janicke, a professor in the department of clinical and health psychology at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, and Dr. Christina McCrae, a professor and chairwoman of the department of health psychology at the University of Missouri.

While the association between sleep problems and obesity is not well understood, experts believe the behavioral and physiological changes associated with inadequate sleep are responsible for weight gain. Children who are tired may not have the energy to be physically active, for example, and research has shown that too little sleep can cause the body to produce lower levels of the hormone that regulates appetite.

“Most parents are probably aware that diet and activity are important for maintaining healthy weight,” Dr. Janicke said. “They may also recognize that their child is not getting enough sleep, resists going to bed or is extremely hard to awaken for school. What they may not realize is that poor sleep in childhood may contribute to excess weight and make it harder for children to eat right and be active. Improving sleep in these children may have added benefits in terms of weight loss and an overall healthier lifestyle.”

The UF Pediatric Sleep Study is designed to help children who are overweight and having sleep problems improve their sleep through behavioral strategies rather than medication, medical devices or surgical procedures. Parents and children will participate in individual treatment sessions with a trained sleep therapist to learn how to manage real-life problems and make healthy changes in the child’s sleep patterns.

Results from the study have the potential to not only inform treatment of childhood sleep problems, but also impact prevention and intervention efforts aimed at addressing the broader issue of child obesity, the researchers say.