“You need your sleep:” BYU study suggests lack of sleep prompts poor eating habits

UTAH (ABC4) – We’re all familiar with our late-night binge eating. Whether you’re studying or working, coming home from a night out, or simply knowing you’re a night owl, it’s common to reach for a bag of chips, candy, or cookies when you need to pick up in the morning hours. But did you know that individuals who get less sleep may actually be more likely to choose less healthy foods?

According to Kara Duraccio, an assistant professor of psychology at Brigham Young University (BYU) who specializes in the study of sleep, researchers have long known that poor sleep is linked to obesity. She says they didn’t know exactly why.

But, given the data from Duraccio’s latest study, there may now be some strong clues to help answer that question.

Over the course of five nights, Doraccio and a team of researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center compared the eating habits of 93 teens. The teens were classified into two categories: those who got short sleepers, defined as 6.5 hours, and those who got healthy sleep, defined as 9.5 hours. Study participants informed the researchers about the type and amount of food consumed, along with the timing of food intake.

After analyzing the data in terms of the number of calories and the characteristics of nutrients within the chosen foods, the researchers were surprised by what they found.

According to Dorachio, the team expected to find teens who got less sleep would eat more. What they found, in fact, was a slightly different story.

“We found that they were actually eating about the same amount of calories per day, but they were eating less healthy foods overall,” she says.

The team discovered that teens who slept less consumed an additional 12 grams of sugar per day, which, if maintained, could result in an additional 4.5 pounds of sugar during the school year. Researchers say this rate of consumption has serious implications for the development of serious health problems.

So why are people who sleep less drawn to options that are less nutritious?

According to Duraccio, it’s a bit like chasing an ecstasy.

“Our working hypothesis is that teens go through the day tired so they look for foods that will give them quick bursts of energy to get them through the day into the evening so they can sleep,” Doraccio explains.

The study showed that participants ate the majority of carbohydrate-rich foods later in the evening, after 9pm, and says that while this dietary approach is effective for increasing energy in the short term, researchers are concerned that this lifestyle choice has drastic links to ongoing health risks. Such as obesity and other heart and metabolic diseases.

“The healthy behaviors they develop as a teenager are very predictive of what they will do as adults,” Doracio says. “We know that adolescent obesity is highly predictive of adult obesity and that poor sleep is strongly predictive of poor sleep in adulthood.”

Doraccio says teens are more likely to develop these kinds of unhealthy habits.

With the commitments that come with high school coursework, sports practices, other extracurricular activities, and social connections on top of it all, sleep is usually the first thing in a teen’s busy schedule.

“Teens are experiencing this perfect storm of sleep problems, which means they are in an evolutionary period of their lives where they are drowning in extracurricular activities, homework, and other social obligations,” Doracio says. “I think teens are particularly vulnerable to this and they aren’t fully aware of the negative health effects of a lack of sleep that adults might be aware of.”

Adolescents also go through a period in their lives where their bodies are developing at a rapid pace, creating a different circadian rhythm than the majority of the adult population. And according to Doraccio, society is not built around an inner teenage clock.

“Teenagers’ bodies are physiologically not tired until late in the evening. And while that wouldn’t normally be a huge thing, because teens can only sleep the next day, we live in a country that prioritizes early school start times for teens. We have teens who sleep. at a time that is perhaps more conducive to their internal clock, but they are not allowed to sleep that long and to wake up at a time conducive to that hour.”

Aside from revealing the ways in which our world is not designed for teenagers, the study also has many implications that shed light on our culture as a whole.

Duraccio specifically mentions the way our busy schedules prompt us to give up sleep first, and how this is seen as socially acceptable – and often a source of pride.

“I feel like we sometimes wear it as a badge of honour,” she says. Like, ‘Oh, I only get five or six hours of sleep every night, and I can function great,’ or ‘I just spent the night studying for this test. “

But what can we do to help develop healthy teen sleep habits — and culture?

Doracio says it starts with doing “a lot of hard work with teens” to establish good sleep habits and patterns, and then, it may take a broader cultural shift toward prioritizing sleep and recognizing the ways it affects our overall health — not just physically and nutritionally, But in the context of mental health, too.

“I hope the reaction is negative as if we were like, ‘Oh, I smoked four packs of cigarettes yesterday,'” Doraccio says of discussions about lack of sleep. “Anyone can recognize that this is a negative health behavior. I want it to be the same with sleep, just like this: “Oh, that’s not good. You need your sleep.”


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