Sleep is important for people of any age but new research shows why it’s especially important to high schoolers when it comes to their health. Researchers from Brigham Young University found teens are susceptible to weight gain and cardiometabolic diseases as a result of poor eating habits when they sleep less.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says 73 percent of high school students do not get the recommended minimum of 8 hours of sleep each night. Previous research shows that a lack of sleep can cause mental health issues, poor academic performance and behavioral problems. Now it is has been attributed to diet-related concerns.
BYU researchers worked with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to study sleep issues for teenagers. They found those who are sleep deprived resort to eating junk food, most likely as a coping mechanism.
"Shortened sleep increases the risk for teens to eat more carbs and added sugars and drink more sugar-sweetened beverages than when they are getting a healthy amount of sleep," said Dr. Kara Duraccio, BYU clinical and developmental psychology professor and lead author of the study.
She and her team worked with a group of 93 teenagers and measured their calorie intake, macronutrient content, the types of food they ate as well as the glycemic load of their choices. They observed these study participants under two different sleep conditions. The first is when they only got 6.5 hours of sleep each night for a week and the other when their sleep time was increased to 9.5 hours.
When the teens had less sleep they were more likely to eat foods that resulted in a blood sugar spike such as sugary drinks and other foods high in carbs and added sugar. They also ate fewer fruits and vegetables.
"What's interesting is that getting less sleep didn't cause teens to eat more than their peers getting healthy sleep; both groups consumed roughly the same amounts of calories of food," said Duraccio. "But getting less sleep caused teens to eat more. We suspect that tired teens are looking for quick bursts of energy to keep them going until they can go to bed, so they're seeking out foods that are high in carbs and added sugars."
Researchers said the amount of extra sugar consumed for the sleep-deprived teens was 12 grams per day. If that number were multiplied over 180-days of school it would mean the average teen with poor sleep habits would consume an extra 4.5 pounds of sugar during the school year.
"It's human nature to think that when we have a long to-do list, sleep should be the first thing to go or the easiest thing to cut out," she said. "We don't recognize that getting enough sleep helps you accomplish your to-do list better. Sleep health should be incorporated into all prevention and intervention modules for child obesity."