Sleep in Children Linked to Later Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

The findings suggest identifying children at risk of T2D and fixing their sleep could be a low-cost way to head off type 2 diabetes.

There’s more and more evidence that sleep deserves the same attention as diet and exercise when physicians evaluate a patient’s lifestyle to prevent or manage diabetes or help the person lose weight.

Now a new study from the United Kingdom finds that the relationship between sleep and type 2 diabetes (T2D) risk starts in childhood. In fact, the researchers say finding children at risk and fixing their sleep early could be a lost-cost way to head off the development of T2D.

Reporting in the journal Pediatrics, authors led by Christopher Owen and first author Alicja Rudnicka of St. George’s University compared self-reports of sleep time for 4525 multiethnic children aged 9 to 10 years against biomarkers gathered from blood tests.

The researchers confirmed the sleep reports for small set of the children using accelerometers. From fasting blood samples, they measured serum lipids, insulin, plasma glucose, and glycated hemoglobin (A1C). They also measured height, weight, blood pressure, and analyzed body composition. From these measures, they calculated the relationship between the child’s amount of sleep and T2D risk markers.

On average, children slept 10.5 hours a night, with 95% of the children in a range of 8 to 12 hours. The researchers reported a strong inverse relationship between sleep duration, adiposity, and diabetes risk markers. Each hour of sleep was associated with 0.19 lower body mass index (BMI), 0.03 kg/m5 lower fat mass index, 2.9% lower homeostasis model assessment insulin resistance, and 0.24% lower fasting glucose. There was no association with A1C or cardiovascular risk. Associations with insulin and glucose held after additional adjustments for adiposity markers.

“The finding of an inverse association between sleep duration and T2D risk markers in childhood is novel,” the authors noted. “Intervention studies are needed to establish the causality of these associations, which could provide a simple strategy for early T2D prevention,” and a less costly one, they note.

While adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep, children and teenagers need more. Newborns sleep up to 21 hours per day, while toddlers take frequent naps and sleep up to 13 hours per day until age 5. Most children need 10 to 11 hours of sleep until the teenage years, when most still need at least 9 and some need 11 hours.

In the United States, some school districts have adjusted school schedules to begin very early to accommodate athletics, activities, student jobs, or even transportation schedules. The American Medical Association has recommended that schools adopt later start times for high school students.


Rudnicka AR, Nightingale CM, Donin AS, et al. Sleep duration and risk of type 2 diabetes. Pediatrics. 2017.

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