A new study by University College London (UCL) found toddlers who sleep 10 hours a day or less eat more food than those who get at least 13 hours of sleep. The toddlers who get less sleep are therefore more likely to be overweight.

Researchers focused on 1,303 British families participating in the Gemini birth cohort. The cohort examines twins and the genetic and environmental factors that help determine early weight. They studied the sleep habits of the families' 16-month-old children, then examined diet when the children were 21 months old. Researchers found those who did not get as much sleep ate a tenth more calories than others who slept longer. They also noted this increased caloric intake put these children at risk for obesity among other health issues.

Why increased calorie consumption occurs in children who sleep less is unclear, but researchers suggest it has to do with regulation of appetite hormones, as shorter sleeping patterns can interfere with this process.

"We know shorter sleep in early life increases the risk of obesity so we wanted to understand whether shorter sleeping children consume more calories," said Dr. Abi Fisher of the UCL Health Behaviour Research Centre. "Previous studies in adults and older children have shown sleep loss causes people to eat more but in early life parents make most of the decisions about when and how much their children eat -- so young children cannot be assumed to show the same patterns."

She also noted that while less sleep may result in increased food consumption and parents should be made aware of this, further research is still needed.

The study was published in the International Journal of Obesity. A 2013 study published in the journal Pediatrics that focused on children ages 8 to 11 had similar results: they ate more when they slept less, thus increasing their chances of obesity and other health problems.