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The reason parents should set bedtimes and stick to them
An early bedtime for young children does more than preserve parents' sanity. It can lead to better health even when they are teens, a new study suggests. - photo by Jennifer Graham
An early bedtime for young children does more than preserve parents' sanity. It can lead to better health for your children, even when they're teens, a new study suggests.

As CNN reported, researchers examined the health records of 977 children and found that preschoolers with early bedtimes were half as likely to be obese as adolescents than those who stayed up later.

About 10 percent of 4-year-olds who went to bed before 8 p.m. were obese at age 15.

But 16 percent of children who went to bed between 8 and 9 p.m. were obese as teens, and the number jumped to 23 percent if the children were regularly awake after 9, the researchers said.

The difference, lead author Sarah E. Anderson told Jacqueline Howard of CNN, is likely the result of several factors, including limited time to indulge in snacks, as well as bodily changes that occur when we don't sleep enough.

"Not getting enough sleep can result in changes in the hormones controlling appetite and metabolism. Also, staying up later in the evening provides more opportunity for snacking and viewing television commercials that promote snacking," Anderson said.

Parents who are strict about bedtimes may be more vigilant about what their children eat, too.

In the study, published in the September issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, the authors note that the time a child goes to bed has a greater impact on her overall sleep than the time she gets up in the morning. Also, bedtimes are usually easier to change than wake times, which are usually set by a school or work schedule.

Previous research has shown that earlier bedtimes are associated with better behavior and less waking during the night, the authors said, concluding that pediatricians should urge parents to set early bedtimes and strictly enforce them.

Of course, putting children in a bed doesn't mean they'll instantly go to sleep. That's why parents sometimes employ tricks like a bedtime "pass" and implement comforting routines to help children settle down.

It's worth the effort to help your children establish good sleep habits in childhood, because research has shown that sleep quality and length appears to be connected to weight in adulthood, too.

In one study, researchers examined the routines and health of 60,000 women over 16 years. None were obese at the start of the study, but at its conclusion, women who slept five or fewer hours every night were more likely to have gained 30 pounds than those who slept seven hours each night.

Again, several factors are likely at play: The women who slept less may have been too tired to exercise and they had more waking time to eat. But it's increasing clear that sleep which obesity researcher Dr. Jean-Philippe Chaput calls "the most sedentary activity of all" is important in the fight against childhood obesity.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says parents should ensure that their children get the recommended hours of sleep, even if they have to cut back on after-school activities. Children ages 3-5 should get 10-13 hours of sleep; 6- to 12-year-olds, between 9 and 12 hours; and 13- to 18-year-olds, between 8 and 10, the AAP says.