If your child struggles with their weight, doctors may have expressed concern to you about their diet or exercise without necessarily giving you the tools you need to help them manage their health. For children, having a BMI in the 95th percentile for their age is considered overweight. Too often, doctors list off all the problems that can arise from children being overweight such as obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA without acknowledging that these problems can actually contribute to the child having difficulty managing their weight in the first place. Poor sleep can not only make it more difficult to lose weight, it can also contribute to ongoing weight gain.

appoinment   I have a Question about


If your child sleeps poorly on a regular basis, they may have more difficulty motivating themselves to get up and exercise. They may crave high calorie, low-quality foods that give them a quick burst of energy, but ultimately are not sustaining. It is easy to say that they should eat high protein, low carb snacks to build long, sustained energy, but this is quite literally going against what the body is asking for, and encouraging a child to make these choices can be difficult, especially considering that many adults find it just about impossible.


However, there is much more to the problem of children struggling with their weight than just how they eat, or how much exercise they get. What many pediatricians either do not realize or do not adequately convey to their patients, is that when children (or adults) sleep badly on a regular basis, the entire hormonal system is thrown off balance. The systems that regulate which calories are burned for energy, and which are stored for later use is off kilter, and the systems that regulate hunger are completely irregular.

Let us go into more detail:

  • Lack of sleep, as well as some sleep disorders (like sleep apnea), disrupt the normal pattern of sleep. This can prevent your child from secreting human growth hormone (HGH). HGH is mostly secreted during the first period of deep sleep, which happens early in the night. This hormone is essential for repair of the overall body, changes in muscle mass, and the removal of fat around the belly.
  • The disruption of the normal pattern of sleep can also cause an increase in stress hormones, such as cortisol, which makes it more difficult for the body to heal natural and normal wear and tear from growth and use. It can also cause more fat to accumulate around the belly.
  • Sleep disruptions due to sleep disorders alter the level of hunger and satiety hormones in such a way that people are more likely to overeat, and to choose higher fat, higher carbohydrate foods in order to get the burst of energy that they need to keep going.
  • Sleep apnea promotes excess fat in the body, and excess fat can cause the release of inflammatory proteins. These proteins can cause everything from cardiovascular disease and hypertension to diabetes and cancer.
  • Some of the most common types of eating disorders- night time eating disorder, sleep-related eating disorder are actual sleep disorders which can be treated easily with proper evaluation.
  • Your body responds differently to meals taken early in the morning versus late at night. Avoid eating late at night to control weight.


There are also several common eating disorders, such as night time eating disorder and sleep-related eating disorders, are actually classified more properly as sleep disorders. A sleep specialist can often help you find adequate and easy treatment for these concerns.

It is worth noting that your body responds differently to food that you eat first thing in the morning versus later in the day. Eating a light meal at night, and avoiding heavy foods later in the evening, helps to control weight.


If your child is struggling with weight problems, consider a full sleep evaluation in addition to nutritional and behavioral evaluation. Our physicians are board certified in sleep medicine as well as obesity medicine by American Board of Medical Specialties and American Board of Obesity Medicine.