Got a Picky Eater at Home? Check How Long They’re Sleeping Every Night

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preschooler awake in bed

No chicken? No broccoli? No toast that isn’t a certain shape and doesn’t have a perfect crust? If you have a picky eater, you’ve so been there, and it’s tough. But, new research shows that kids who have some serious preferences with their food choices might have something else going on that has nothing to do with the grocery list… their sleep.

A new study out of Portugal, published recently through the Institute of Public Health  has shown an association between sleep duration and eating habits in school-aged children. (1) The study looked at data from over 2,000 children from birth to 7 years of age. The data was reported by parents and included sleep and appetite tendencies of the children, including sleep duration, appetitive traits and BMI. Appetitive traits were evaluated based on the Children’s Eating Behavior Questionnaire (CEBQ) and included questions related to enjoyment of food, emotional overeating, desire to drink, food fussiness, emotional undereating and slowness in eating.

The study found that children who slept fewer than 9.5 hours had a higher score for food responsiveness, or the urge to eat when seeing or smelling food, regardless of hunger. Children who slept longer than 11 hours scored lower on the food fussiness scale. The study also found that there may be an association between longer sleep duration and reduced food fussiness as the child ages. Makes sense, right? Grouchy sleep-deprived kids are pretty unlikely to try your fancy new quiche recipe.

The study further revealed that in children who are overweight or obese, for every hour of additional sleep, there was a reduction in Food Responsiveness. The link between food choices, sleep, and health started much before this study. Instead, it adds to a body of research including a 2024 study from University College London that reported that higher food responsiveness at the ages of four and five was associated with a higher probability of eating disorders from ages 12-14. (2) Over ten years ago, scientists were becoming more aware of the tricky relationship between kids’ sleeping and eating habits.

So, for parents hoping to get those fruits, veggies, and healthy proteins into their kids’ diets, it might start much earlier than breakfast, with a bit of a sleep hygiene assessment. Parents can use sleep guidelines for kids to determine if there needs to be any changes, including:

  • Creating a predictable bedtime routine with the same sequence of events each night, such as bath, reading, etc.
  • Choosing the same bedtime and wake time each day and night
  • Getting enough exercise during the day
  • Avoiding food too close to bedtime, and caffeine in general (unless your teen is already hooked on coffee, in which case encourage them to keep it limited to morning hours)
  • Use cozy pajamas and bedding, a noise machine, and a cool, dark, comfortable sleep environment

Finally, those still struggling with exceptionally picky eaters can bring up the topic with their child’s pediatrician, who can advise them on short term solutions such as meal supplementation, and long term solutions such as various therapies to help with pickiness. But, if sleep is the real issue lurking below the pea aversions at dinner time, it might need some attention too.

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1. Rita Pereira, Alexandra Costa, Sarah Warkentin, Sofia Vilela, Andreia Oliveira, Sleep duration is associated with appetitive traits in school-age years – results from the Generation XXI birth cohort, Appetite, Volume 199, 2024, 107384, ISSN 0195-6663,

2. Derks, I. P. K., et al. (2024) Early childhood appetitive traits and eating disorder symptoms in adolescence: a 10-year longitudinal follow-up study in the Netherlands and the UK. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Alex is also mom to her four sons under age 7, who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting. For over a decade she has been helping publications and companies connect with readers and bring high-quality information and research to them in a relatable voice.  She has been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Glamour, Shape, Today's Parent, Reader's Digest, Parents, Women's Health, and Insider.

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