Insufficient Sleep Tied to Obesity in Children
> 5/15/2006 2:38:07 PM

Researchers have long understood that sleep loss can lead to mood changes, energy depletion, and increased risk of injury, but it also contributes to obesity. A newly published study by the University of South Australia's Center for Sleep Research is only the latest to draw clear connections between insomnia and weight problems. This particular research project focuses on the sleep patterns of hundreds of Australian children, finding that irregular sleep schedules often result in a confusion of signals travelling through the pre-frontal cortex, leading to uneven distribution of the organic chemicals that regulate appetite.

The hypothalamus gland, which automates distribution of various hormones throughout the nervous and endocrine systems, is especially susceptible to elements of environmental stress such as those brought on by lack of sleep or unhealthy eating habits. These factors make for a distorted metabolism which often sends the wrong signals to the brain during periods of duress. Seemingly unrelated variables like an uneven sleep pattern can then lead to the increased circulation of hormones which trigger the brain's hunger impulse. This cycle can be particularly damaging to children, leaving them predisposed to further problems with obesity, insomnia, and related metabolic disorders.

Scientists and dieticians have long considered sleep loss a precursor to weight gain, but focus within the debate has shifted from a lack of insulin to decreased levels of the protein hormone leptin, which plays a greater role in determining energy intake and expenditure. Periods of sleep deprivation require more energy, lowering levels of leptin and leading the body to mistakenly believe itself undernourished. Children who stay up late, get less sleep, and do not carefully regulate their diets can unconsciously disrupt the circulation of these hormones, leaving themselves more likely to suffer from insomnia, energy loss, and, inevitably, obesity.

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