Early to bed, early to eat and rise may be the solution for keeping kids healthy and balanced.
Remember the popular children’s tune, “Toe bone connected to the foot bone, Foot bone connected to the heel bone, Heel bone connected to the ankle bone…” and so on. Of course, in med school, one learns that things are a bit more complicated, but the message still holds strong: Everything in the body is connected.
This concept is the holy grail of Ayurveda, but the connectedness goes beyond the body and mind. The latest science tells us, as Ayurveda did thousands of years ago, that everything is connected. This includes the microbes in the soil, the seasonal shifts, cycles of the moon, and even our thoughts and emotions.
To illustrate this, I found 3 studies that, while unrelated on the surface, all deeply connect and impact our daily lives.
Study #1: We have all heard that we should be getting more sleep than our busy schedules allow. A new study suggests that children who do not get enough sleep having a greater risk of becoming obese and developing diabetes later in life. (1)
Study #2: Kids who don’t get enough sleep typically wake up late, tired and are too rushed to sit down and have breakfast. A new study found that a growing number of kids are skipping breakfast, and those who do are significantly more nutrient-deficient compared to kids who eat a healthy breakfast. (2)
Study #3: When these sleep-deprived kids grow up and get an urban job, they are exposed to a never-ending amount of light pollution from city lights that stay on 24/7. A new Harvard study found a link between exposure to nighttime urban lighting and an increased risk of breast cancer. (3)
When I read these three studies, I realized I was reading about one problem, not three, and this problem affects all of us in ways many of us do not realize…
3 Keys to Raising Children in the Modern Age
Key #1: Early To Bed
First, how much sleep do our kids really need?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, children aged six to thirteen should get 9-11 hours of sleep each night – which means if they have to wake up by 6AM, they need to be asleep by 7-9PM. (1)
In the study, they found that kids who got less sleep were heavier and more likely to become insulin resistant, which is a risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes. For children, an extra hour of sleep, for instance, correlated with a 3% reduction in insulin resistance and a 0.2-point lower body mass index. (1)
Key #2: Eat Early
For years, the scientific community has debated about which meal is the most important, and the consensus is that eating early rather than late is critical, but only a few studies looked at the effects of skipping meals.
In this study, the researchers used food diaries to track the diets of more than 800 children aged four to ten and nearly 900 kids aged eleven to eighteen over the course of 4 years.
For the study, breakfast was defined as more than 100 calories of food between 6 and 9AM. Those who skipped breakfast had lower levels of nutrients such as folate, calcium, iron and iodine.
For example, nearly a third of those who skipped breakfast didn’t meet the minimum recommended intake of iron, compared to about 4% of those who ate breakfast. Almost 20% of breakfast-skippers didn’t meet calcium guidelines, compared to 3% of breakfast-eaters. (2)
Key #3: Mitigate Cumulative Circadian Stress
Are the children who grew up not getting enough sleep and running late for breakfast ready for the circadian stress that urban life holds for most adults? Is there a cumulative effect?
These are good questions and here is what we know…
There is a thing called light pollution, where the city light glow can even illuminate the suburbs. I have written numerous articles on the risks of excessive artificial lighting and what is called “chronodisruption.”
In the Harvard study, in areas where satellite imaging showed the greatest nighttime glow from cities, they measured the risk of breast cancer. Researchers tracked almost 110,000 U.S. women, followed as part of a long-term study of nurses from 1989-2013. As levels of outdoor nighttime light went up, so did the likelihood of breast cancer.
They found that breast cancer levels in premenopausal women who currently smoked or had smoked in the past grew by 14% if they were in the 20% deemed to have had the most exposure to outdoor light at night. (3)
There are many studies linking circadian stress to a host of health concerns including breast health, mood, bone, brain, joint, hormone, immune and microbiome concerns. (4-15)
Bottom line: Circadian stress is insidious and it has a trickle-down effect on everyone, starting with our children.