The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the daily routines of many children. When disrupted schedules lead to increasingly later bedtimes, it can affect their sleep and even their weight.

A study published in Pediatrics found that young children who routinely stayed up late (after 9 p.m.) tended to gain more body fat between 2 and 6 years old. These children had bigger increases in waist size and BMI compared to kids with earlier bedtimes.

Other studies have found a link between childhood obesity and sleep patterns as well.

One study of elementary-age children found that 71% of participants with a late bedtime had obesity. Other behaviors, such as watching more television or eating a late dinner, were also linked with childhood obesity.

Another study found that adolescents with late bed and rise times tended to drink more caffeinated drinks and eat more fast food. These lifestyle choices may contribute to an increased risk of obesity.

It’s important that attention to bedtimes starts at an early age.

After following nearly 1,000 children from birth to age 15, researchers found that earlier bedtimes can make a lifelong difference. They found that preschoolers who went to sleep before 8 p.m. cut their risk of obesity in half compared to those who went to sleep after 9 p.m.

The time that children go to sleep may be an important predictor of obesity, but it’s not the only factor. Many studies have examined the link between obesity and sleep duration – how many hours a child sleeps each night.

It’s recommended that school-age children get at least 10 hours of sleep per night. Check out the AASM’s sleep duration recommendations for kids and teens.

Enforcing an appropriate bedtime helps children get the recommended amount of sleep. Use this bedtime calculator to find the best bedtime for your child’s age.

Reviewed by: Anne M. Morse, DO