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Weight, learning and sleep – it’s all connected (11/14/11)

November 14, 2011

Less Sleep, More Weight – and Worse Learning


Connections count.  A few years ago people had a hard time believing that sleep time determined weight.  Though physicians have long recognized that increased weight means increased sleep apnea, most of the population does not recognize that being overweight itself interferes with sleep and increases inflammation.  Alex Vgontzas and his group at Penn State have done admirable work in this area. Poor sleep also means poor learning,  as any schoolteacher trying to wake up pupils during morning class can explain.

But now there’s evidence that weight, sleep, and learning  influence each other – and in negative ways.

The data come from a study at the University of Chicago run by Karen Spruyt.  They looked at 351 Louisville elementary school students.

All got IQ tests.  All had their subjective sleep recorded, and got put in the lab for sleep tests to determine if they had sleep apnea.  Then the data were mathematically assessed to  see what might cause what.

These were the results (

  • If they slept poorly they risked more obesity – and did worse on learning tests.  If they were overweight, they showed higher rates of apneas and did poorer on learning tests.  If their learning scores were poor, they had more problems with sleep and weight.
  • In short, learning, weight, and sleep all influenced each other.

Information and Its Implications

Your body processes information.  It uses it, remembers what it uses, and forgets a lot of the rest. An enormous amount of continuously reassessed  information goes into the rebuilding your body accomplishes to keep you alive.

In the case of kids, we know now that arenas we don’t normally think are connected – learning, weight, and sleep – are deeply interconnected, with profound effects on how kids grow and develop.

Which given the present day influence of children’s food companies and food advertising, television, cell phones and other media, should leave us scared stiff.


   TV and Small Children

The American Academy of Pediatrics has even more alarming news. They recommend that parents not allow their infants below the age of two to watch any TV programs at all – no matter what they device.

Apparently kids can’t understand enough to integrate the information.  The result for them is developmental delay – worse learning and lessened language ability, according to the November 4th issue of “The Week.”

Kids need to be spoken to – regularly – to further their language skills.  They won’t  get that, particularly during critical early periods of  language acquisition, from TV. And lots of households keep TV on throughout the waking day as a “natural” babysitter.

  More toddler TV – less language learning.



Lessons For Adults

Adults living in a hard pressed economy trying through two or three jobs to keep house and household together won’t want to know that TV is bad for their young children.  They may not want to learn that super sugary foods advertised on television will make their children potentially fatter and dumber.  The may have a particularly hard time recognizing that poor learning itself may contribute to greater weight and poor sleep.

But it will be helpful for them to know these things.

Helpful not just for their kids, but for themselves.  The body operates as a system.  The hip bone is connected to the thigh bone, but bone cells are also endocrine glands that affect your glucose level and diabetic tendencies.  Fat cells are also hormonal producers that may help promote atherosclerosis.  The types of bacteria in your gut may have a lot to say about how well you respond to stress and whether you get depressed.



Putting it Together

Viewed as part of an overall body information system, such otherwise jarring facts make sense.  What we do is what we become. Evolution made cells and organs capable of doing many different jobs – far more than the ones we usually ascribe to them.

Which should give us hope.  For just as interactions like sleep and learning can quickly move into negative territory, they can also work for us.  Getting enough rest leads to better memory, better learning,  more resilient and creative brains.  Moving after meals – like a brief walk back to work – can change weight, outlook, productivity, and learning.  Changing weight, hard as it is, can rid sufferers of sleep apnea and even diabetes.

Putting things together in a connected system is not hard when you know how things are connected.  A little knowledge can let you make the right connections to regenerate yourself the way you want.

And make your kids smarter, quicker, more creative – and even more prone to question your authority.

Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news

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