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Sleepy Teens Have Poor Diet Habits


Insomnia and weight gain have been linked in adults but a new study finds that teens are not immune. Research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center (both in Boston) have found that teenagers who sleep less than eight hours a night on weekends eat more fatty foods and snacks which increase the risk of obesity, especially in girls.

Not Getting Enough Sleep Leads to Overeating

Dr. Susan Redline and colleagues studied 240 teenagers aged 16 to 19 that participated in an ongoing sleep study. Their sleep was monitored at home using a wrist band device called an actigraph that measured movements to determine wakefulness and sleep. Food intake was calculated using 24-hour food recalls taken via interviews.

Teenagers that slept less than eight hours on weeknights consumed an average of 245 more calories per day than those that slept more. Eating 245 calories more per day than the body needs can potentially lead to a 25 pound weight gain over the course of a year.

The sleepy teens were more likely to consume higher amounts of fatty foods and to eat more between meal snacks. Girls were more likely to overeat than boys.

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"The demonstration of chronically altered dietary patterns in adolescents with shorter sleep provides insight into why shorter sleep has been associated with obesity in prior experimental and observational studies," said Dr. Redline. She states that more fat in the diet not only increases the risk of obesity, but also later cardiovascular disease.

The reasons for the increase in calorie intake are twofold. In past studies on sleep deprivation in a controlled laboratory setting, participants who got less sleep more often craved fatty foods, probably to fight fatigue and gain energy. Chronic sleep loss may also lead to metabolic disturbances that are linked to both obesity and insulin resistance.

In addition, more wakeful hours lead to more opportunity to eat, said Redline.

But the good news is that better sleep habits can reverse the risk. The team also found that each added hour of sleep lowered the odds of snacking by about 21 percent.

The study also found that, overall, the majority of teens do not get enough sleep. Only 34% of the participants slept for an average of eight hours or more (mean was 7.5 hours). According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, teens need at least 9 hours of sleep to feel rested and alert.

For more on Chronic Sleep Loss in Teens, read:
Early to Bed Helps Fight Depression in Teens
Start School Later for Better High School Students
Does Your Teen Fall Asleep Behind the Wheel?