Mom, Dad, Can I Sleep With You?

Childhood obesity less likely among children who crawl into their parents bed at night

(RxWiki News) It's 3 a.m. "Mommy, can I sleep with you?" What you respond with in your sleepy stupor may have an impact on your child's risk of becoming overweight.

An unpublished study on obesity found that children who come to their parents' bed in the middle of the night are considerably less likely to become overweight compared to those who don't, among children at risk of becoming obese.

"Letting your child stay in bed with you may protect against obesity."

Nanna Olsen, of the Research Unit for Dietary Studies in the Institute of Preventive Medicine at Copenhagen University in Denmark, led a study investigating the link between a child's risk of becoming overweight and the child's frequency of entering their parents' bed in the middle of the night.

Because obesity is associated with getting too little sleep or getting inadequate or fragmented sleep, the researchers wanted to know if the disruption from going into their parents' room might be linked to obesity.

The researchers used data on 497 children, aged 2 to 6, in the Sund Start study. These children are regarded as at risk for becoming overweight because they were born with a high birthweight, their mother was overweight before getting pregnant, or their mother came from a low socioeconomic group.

Olsen's team measured the body mass index (BMI) of the children and surveyed the parents on whether the child entered their bed at night and how frequently they did so.

The study found that children who never crawled into their parents bed at night had more than three times the risk of being overweight compared to children who did. 

The researchers took into account the child's age and gender and the parents' educational level in their calculations.

According to William Kohler, MD, director of the Florida Sleep Institute and director of Pediatric Sleep Services at Florida Hospital Tampa, the study is interesting but requires more data about the overall sleep quality of the two groups.

"We don't know the quality of the sleep in each of the groups," Dr. Kohler said. "They assume the group that went to the parents were getting poor sleep. They may have gotten better sleep once they got to their parents' room. Those are the types of facts we don't have."

He said that other studies have clearly shown the association between poor sleep quality and obesity, but more study would need to be done into what kind of sleep the children are getting in this study.

Olsen said the results suggested that the feeling of security and support from parents at night may be a reason for a lowered risk of becoming overweight, and/or the feeling of being rejected when not allowed to sleep with their parents might play a part in becoming overweight.

The study was presented May 8 at the 19th European Congress on Obesity in Lyon, France. The research was funded by TrygFonden, Danish Medical Research Council and Helsefonden. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, which means other scientists may not have had a chance to review the methods and data to ensure it passes their quality standards.

Review Date: 
May 10, 2012