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Poor sleep linked to poor diets in teens

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Teens who don't get enough sleep--which represents about 75% of all teens--are more susceptible to poor dietary choices, a recent study found.

Over the last few years, consumers have become more attuned to how whole-body wellness can affect overall health. From immunity to gut and brain health and everything in between, consumers are realizing the importance of overall well-being.

Teens and adolescents have been among the most impacted groups during the COVID-19 pandemic as school closures and remote learning have completely upended most children’s’ way of life. Now, a recent study has indicated teens who experience poor sleep—which, according to researchers, about three-quarters of all teens do (Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018 Jan 26; 67(3): 85–90.)—may also suffer from worse dietary choices as a result (Sleep, 2021;, zsab269). This includes, according to the researchers, “consum[ing] more sugar and carbohydrates, increasing their risk of metabolic disorders, obesity and mental health challenges.”

For the study, a sample of 93 adolescent boys and girls ages 14 to 17 was analyzed for three weeks. For those three weeks, all subjects were awoken at the same time each day, but some went to bed earlier than others; one group was given 6.5 hours of sleep per night, the other 9.5 hours. Over the three weeks, the longer sleep group averaged about 2 hours and 20 minutes more sleep per night than the other group.

The subjects’ diets were monitored, and the researchers found both groups of teens consumed about the same number of calories per day, regardless of sleep time. However, the teens who slept less consumed 72% more calories and 32% more carbohydrates between the hours of 9 and 11pm—a poor eating habit, according to the authors. Additionally, the lower sleep group consumed fewer fruits and vegetables, and drank more high-sugar beverages, than the more sleep group.

“Getting less sleep caused teens to eat more junk,” said Kara Duraccio, Ph.D., and the study’s lead author, in a release. “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.”

According to the researchers, the 12 g of additional sugar consumed by the sleep-deprived group would add up to nearly a 5-lb. weight gain over an entire school year.

“These experimental findings suggest that adolescents who have insufficient sleep exhibit dietary patterns that may increase the risk for negative weight and cardiometabolic outcomes,” the authors concluded. “Future health promotion efforts should include promoting optimal sleep to increase healthy dietary habits.”

The authors did make sure to note that both the brevity of the study—just three weeks—and that all subjects for the study were from the same (middle-to-upper-class) socioeconomic group represented limiting factors, and noted further research would be key.

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