Obesity in Childhood May Cause Sleeping Troubles in Adulthood

People need sleep to keep alert, healthy, and productive. We often think that getting a better night’s sleep is just a matter of forcing ourselves to go to bed earlier or drink less caffeine, but some issues with sleep may stem from childhood. A study led by NYSCF — Robertson Investigator Maria K. Lehtinen, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital suggests that obesity in one’s early years may affect sleep patterns in adulthood by disrupting the sleep circuitry in the brain.

In a study published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers gave a group of preadolescent mice a high fat diet for six weeks before returning them to standard laboratory chow. For the next several months, these mice showed sleep disturbances such as increased non-REM sleep and a higher frequency of waking up, even though they were no longer obese.

The researchers also looked at the sleep patterns of mice that became obese in adulthood. Although these mice showed similar sleep disturbances when on the high-fat diet, their sleep went back to normal when they were switched to the standard laboratory chow.

The reason the mice with childhood obesity showed persistent changes may be due to decreased levels of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin plays a big role in the brain’s sleep circuitry as well as in feeding behavior. Scientists know that increasing serotonin levels in mice on high-fat diets results in better sleep, but it is unknown whether increasing serotonin in mice with childhood obesity will correct for their sleep problems later in life. This question and further investigations into obesity and sleep disruption will be addressed in further research studies.

Read the paper in Science Translational Medicine

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