Sleepy teens make bad food choices

STONY BROOK (US) — Teenagers who get a good night sleep tend to eat healthier than their sleep-deprived peers, a new study suggests.

“Not only do sleepy teens on average eat more food that’s bad for them, they also eat less food that is good for them,” says Lauren Hale, associate professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University.

“While we already know that sleep duration is associated with a range of health consequences, this study speaks to some of the mechanisms, i.e., nutrition and decision making, through which health outcomes are affected.”

Presented at SLEEP 2013, the annual meeting of the Associate Professional Sleep Societies, the study examined the association between sleep duration and food choices in a national representative sample of 13,284 teenagers in the second wave of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The data were collected in 1996 when the interview subjects had a mean age of 16 years.

Teens who reported sleeping fewer than seven hours per night—18 percent of respondents—were more likely to consume fast food two or more times per week and less likely to eat healthful food such as fruits and vegetables.

The results took into account factors such as age, gender, race, and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, physical activity, and family structure, and found that short sleep duration has an independent effect on both healthy and unhealthy food choices.

The respondents fell into one of three categories: short sleepers, who received fewer than seven hours per night; mid-range sleepers, who had seven to eight hours per night; and recommended sleepers, who received more than eight hours per night.

The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that adolescents get between nine and 10 hours of sleep per night.

“We are interested in the association between sleep duration and food choices in teenagers because adolescence is a critical developmental period between childhood and adulthood,” says Allison Kruger, a community health worker and the study’s first author.

“Teenagers have a fair amount of control over their food and sleep, and the habits they form in adolescence can strongly impact their habits as adults.”

The study concludes that addressing sleep deficiency may be a novel and effective way to improve obesity prevention and health promotion interventions. One of the next steps will be to explore whether the association between sleep duration and food choices is causal, Hale says.

“If we determine that there is a causal link between chronic sleep and poor dietary choices, then we need to start thinking about how to more actively incorporate sleep hygiene education into obesity prevention and health promotion interventions.”

Researchers from Utah State University, University of Colorado at Denver, and University of Wisconsin-Madison contributed to the study that was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Source: Stony Brook University