Sleep Needs and Obesity

In a June 2011 report, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended obesity control measures for children in 5 areas:
1. Growth Monitoring
2. Physical Activity
3. Healthy Eating
4. Limiting Screen Time and Marketing Exposure for Children
5. Sufficient Sleep

The first four areas are the same as those of national campaigns now underway. The sleep recommendation is different. The IOM cites research evidence that infants and children are more likely to be obese when they get too little sleep. The IOM recommends that early education and child care program regulations require:
• Creating environments that ensure restful sleep, such as no screen media in rooms where children sleep and low noise and light levels during napping;
• Encouraging sleep-promoting behaviors and practices, such as calming nap routines;
• Encouraging practices that promote child self-regulation of sleep, including putting infants to sleep drowsy but awake; and
• Seeking consultation yearly from an expert on healthy sleep durations and practices. 

ECELS applauds these evidence-based recommendations to combat obesity with sufficient sleep. Getting enough sleep is important for optimal learning and appropriate behavior too. Group care programs must find ways to accommodate the varying sleep needs of individual children. Research shows that after 1 year of age, not all children need to nap. Those who sleep longer at night may get enough sleep. Children who are not ready for sleep should be allowed quiet, restful activities. Although many programs use nap time for staff breaks, enough staff must stay on duty to meet the children's needs.

Pennsylvania compliance regulations allow fewer staff members with the children when children are sleeping.  However, they must provide sight and sound supervision of children who are sleeping. See the article in Health Link Online, Fall 2011 issue on the ECELS website for selected research data about the range of hours children at different ages sleep during the day and at night. Updated 6/2013