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Ben Franklin was right, at least on the healthy part. "Early to bed and early to rise" appears to have helped a cross-section of early-bird Australian youths keep slimmer and more physically active than their night-owl peers, even though both groups got the same amount of sleep.
A study in the Oct. 1 issue of the journal SLEEP recorded the bedtimes and wake times of 2,200 Australian participants, ages 9 to 16, and compared their weights and uses of free time over four days.
Children who went to bed late and got up late were 1.5 times more likely to become obese than those who went to bed early and got up early. Furthermore, late-nighters were almost twice as likely to be physically inactive and 2.9 times more likely to sit in front of the TV and computer or play video games for more hours than guidelines recommend.
"The children who went to bed late and woke up late, and the children who went to bed early and woke up early got virtually the same amount of sleep in total," said co-author Carol Maher, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow with the University of South Australia.
"Scientists have realized in recent years that children who get less sleep tend to do worse on a variety of health outcomes, including the risk of being overweight and obese. Our study suggests that the timing of sleep is even more important."
Maher said mornings are more conducive to physical activity for young people than nights, which offer prime-time TV programming and social networking opportunities.
This relationship between time of day and available activities might explain why more sedentary and screen-based behaviors were observed with later bedtimes, she said. At a time when research is showing that teenagers have a natural tendency to stay up late and wake late, the results of this study could stand as a warning.
"It is widely accepted that the sleep patterns of adolescents are fundamentally different from children and adults, and that it is normal for adolescents to stay up very late and sleep in late in the morning," Maher said.
"Our findings show that this sleeping pattern is associated with unfavorable activity patterns and health outcomes, and that the adolescents who don't follow this sleep pattern do better."
The Australian Food and Grocery Council contributed financially to this study. Read more about sleep and children from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine on the Sleep Education Blog.
The monthly, peer-reviewed, scientific journal SLEEP is published online by the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC, a joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society. The AASM is a professional membership society that is the leader in setting standards and promoting excellence in sleep medicine health care, education and research (www.aasmnet.org).
Study title: "Sleep Duration or Bedtime? Exploring the Relationship between Sleep Habits and Weight Status and Activity Patterns."