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The DREAM study

Diet, Rest, Eating and Activity Monitoring

The DREAM study is investigating whether changing how children sleep affects what and when they eat and how active they are. 

This is because one in three New Zealand children are heavier than desired for their health. When we think of what affects our body weight, we tend to go first to diet and physical activity. However, it is now clear that inadequate sleep is also a strong independent risk factor for obesity in children.

The DREAM study is an experimental trial that changed the sleep patterns of 8-12 year old children and assessed whether this impacted their diet or physical activity levels.

The researchers followed children for several weeks, including one week to understand normal sleeping behaviour and two weeks of sleep intervention. During the sleep intervention there was one week that the children were asked to go to bed an hour earlier than normal, and one week that the children were asked to go to bed later than usual.

Some careful measurements were done to help us understand whether being tired really does affect what children eat and how active they are.

Findings from the DREAM study 

The DREAM study researchers found that getting less sleep resulted in children consuming more energy, especially from poorer food choices and highly processed foods. Interestingly, there was little change in the physical activity patterns of the children. 

These results help us to understand why children who sleep less are more likely to be overweight.

Where do we go to from here?

The next step is to explore what resources are needed to improve sleep in children. Discovering effective interventions that focus on improving sleep in children may play an important role in the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity. 

Learn more about the DREAM study

Researcher profiles:


Jackson R, Haszard JJ, Morrison S, Galland BC, McIntosh D, Ward AL, Meredith-Jones KA, Taylor RW. Measuring short-term eating behaviour and desire to eat: Validation of the child eating behaviour questionnaire and a computerized 'desire to eat' computerized questionnaire. Appetite. 2021 Dec 1;167:105661. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2021.105661.

Morrison S, Galland BC, Haszard JJ, Jackson R, McIntosh DR, Beebe DW, Elder DE, Ward AL, Meredith-Jones K, Taylor RW. Eating in the absence of hunger in children with mild sleep loss: a randomized crossover trial with learning effects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2021 Oct 4;114(4):1428-1437. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqab203.

Ward AL, Jospe M, Morrison S, Reynolds AN, Kuroko S, Fangupo LJ, Smith C, Galland BC, Taylor RW. Bidirectional associations between sleep quality or quantity, and dietary intakes or eating behaviors in children 6–12 years old: A systematic review with evidence mapping. Nutrition Reviews. Published online 13 January 2021. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuaa125

Ward AL, Reynolds AN, Kuroko S, Fangupo LJ, Galland BC, Taylor RW. Bidirectional associations between sleep and dietary intake in 0-5 year old children: A systematic review with evidence mapping. Sleep Med Rev. 2020 Feb;49:101231.

Ward AL, Galland BC, Haszard JJ, Meredith-Jones K, Morrison S, McIntosh DR, Jackson R, Beebe DW, Fangupo L, Richards R, Te Morenga L, Smith C, Elder DE, Taylor RW. The effect of mild sleep deprivation on diet and eating behaviour in children: protocol for the Daily Rest, Eating, and Activity Monitoring (DREAM) randomized cross-over trial. BMC Public Health. 2019 Oct 22;19(1):1347.