If so, listen up: your teen is more at risk for obesity and all the health problems connected to that (high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke…).
The link between sleep deprivation and a higher risk for obesity and related cardiovascular problems may not seem obvious. But here’s the key: when you’re sleep deprived (and yes, for the vast majority of teens, fewer than 8 hours on a regular basis qualifies as being sleep deprived), you’ll crave high carbohydrate foods—especially those that are loaded with fat, salt, and sugar.
I know, it’s not fair to crave junk food when we’re already lacking in the sleep department, but you can blame our ancient DNA on this fact. Encoded in our genes are signals to eat like this when we’re tired. Hormones that control our signals of hunger and, conversely, fullness, get thrown out of whack when we are sleep deprivation.
In a new study published this month in the journal Sleep, researchers determined that teens can’t escape this hard-wired reality that adults are saddled with. Though plenty of studies in recent years have implicated obesity with sleep deprivation in adults, not many have been performed on younger generations to find similar associations. In this latest study:
Sleep-deprived teens consumed 2.2 percent more calories from fat;
Ate more snacks than those who slept eight hours or more a night; and
Ate more total calories.
And you know what that spells: weight gain. When we think of adolescents losing out on sleep, our minds quickly turn to potential accidents, and an inability to concentrate or perform well in school. Studies like this highlight the health consequences of sleep deprivation.
The health repercussions of sleep deprivation at this “tender” age may actually be worse than those of an adult. For starters, teens are establishing habits they will keep for a lifetime. A teen who gets used to eating poorly and packing on the pounds will likely grow into an overweight adult, when it’ll be that much harder to change those habits and lose the excess weight. The more fatty foods you eat, the more you crave them.
Secondly, we’re only beginning to understand the biomechanics of a developing person’s metabolism. Do teens who begin to have metabolic disturbances early in life suffer from a lifetime of irreversible higher health risks? It wouldn’t surprise me. And those higher risks may go far beyond just obesity and cardiovascular challenges. They may in fact go as far as upping the risk for cancer.
So thirdly, it’s a foregone conclusion: teens need their sleep as much as adults do. Need help establishing healthy sleep hygiene in your family life? Go here for more. Or pick up a copy of my book if you need a total makeover on the home front.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™