Sleep-Deprived Teens May Pay A Hefty Price

That’s the title of this piece on Yahoo! news about teens who sleep less eating more fats.  (Eating more fat = the “hefty price”.  Geddit?  Amazing how reporters think nobody’s ever made a fat joke before them.)

In the study, adolescents who slept fewer than eight hours on a weeknight consumed more of their daily calories from fat and fewer calories from carbohydrates than teens who slept eight hours or more. […]

However, the researchers note that their study only shows an association and cannot say for certain whether sleep loss did in fact cause the teens to eat more fatty foods.

The correlation between sleep dep and weight gain has been noted before.  (So’s the correlation between weight gain and stress.  And sleep deprivation is also linked to stress.)   Whether it’s the 2.2% increase in fat intake doing it or not is unclear.

But what had me rolling my eyes was the speculation on why this might be.   Sleep deprivation’s effects on hormones?  Being up longer might provide more time to eat?  The time of day that one is eating might have an effect? Seeking a boost in “reward-seeking behavior”?   I wonder if the researchers ever were sleep-deprived as teens.  I certainly was; I remember the fatigue, falling asleep in class, feeling like I’d never be rested.  I also remember that food would give me energy.  Energy to finish my homework, energy to get through gym class, energy to walk home from school, energy for my after-school cleaning-woman job.  Caffeine was my friend too, but it worked much better with food.

When I was on a diet, of course, I was even more tired—and thus craved food even more.  I’d skip breakfast, have a salad for lunch, and wonder why I was so exhausted at dinnertime.  By college I’d routinely stop for a snack on the way home from work.  Two-packs of Hostess cupcakes; a Twix bar; a single-serving bag of Bugles;  I loved them all, even as I was ashamed of what I then considered binges. (Now that I’ve learned more about eating disorders, I realize that while I might have been “cheating” on my diet, those weren’t binges.)

It’s frustrating, though, that the article doesn’t mention other effects of sleep deprivation: cognitive impairment, increased risk of occupational or automobile accidents, high blood pressure, impaired immune systems — all of which are much more serious to me than being fat.  Or that many teens naturally have a later “sleep phase” than younger kids or adults, which makes it harder for them to get to sleep earlier.   Maybe those weren’t in the press release.

11 thoughts on “Sleep-Deprived Teens May Pay A Hefty Price

  1. Did the study even take into account that adolescence is a time of GROWTH for teens? Their bodies need the extra calories for adding new muscle, bone, and yes, FATTY tissue, as they transition from a child’s body to an adult one? Is anyone, anywhere, even doing SCIENCE any more? Sheesh.

    • They were comparing teens who sleep less than 8 hours on weeknights with teens who got 8 hours or more of sleep. So growing bodies to growing bodies.

      Redline and her colleagues examined the sleeping and eating habits of 240 teens ages 16 to 19. For five to seven nights, the teens wore a wrist device that measured their sleeping patterns at home. The device, known as a wrist actigraph, detects movement and can detect whether a person is awake or asleep.
      The participants were also interviewed about eating habits over a 24-hour period, giving details about what, when and how much was consumed.
      Adolescents who slept fewer than eight hours a night consumed 2.2percent more calories from fat and 3-percent fewer calories from carbohydrates compared with adolescents who slept eight hours or more.

      So, not a huge difference. I would’ve expected them to use this to springboard into the well-established risks of not getting enough sleep – high blood pressure, cognitive problems that can increase auto accidents and decrease grades, etc.

  2. Wait… what?
    X + 2.2% – 3% means that teens who slept less ATE .8% FEWER CALORIES!!!

    Of course, even the largest of those numbers is statistically insignificant, but if you’re going to report on a study, don’t use scare tactics to try to make white look black.

    • It’s going by percentage of calories rather than grams of food, and it’s percent relative to what non-sleep-deprived teens consume. So amount of calories in a gram won’t make a difference, and you also can’t just straight-up compare percentages, unless # of fat calories=# of carb calories for non-sleep-deprived teens.
      According to this, average American men consume 2666 calories a day, of which 49% are carbs and 33% are fat–so they consume 1306 carb calories and 880 fat calories.
      Women consume 1877 total calories, 976 carb calories, and 619 fat calories.

      If average teens also consume more calories from carbs than fat, this means there’s an even greater decrease in calorie consumption than if they consumed equal calories from fat and carbs. If American men increased fat calorie intake by 2.2% (and decreased carb calorie intake by 3%, they’d eat 19 more fat calories and 39 less carb calories. If American women did the same, they’d eat 14 more fat calories and 29 less carb calories. Pretty small differences in any case, but they would be eating slightly fewer calories total.

      So, why are the professionals they interviewed citing this as evidence that sleep deprivation makes you fat? Do they have access to evidence showing that even normal teens eat way more fat and way less carbs than adults do, to the point where they’ve reversed the adult pattern of eating more calories from carbs than fat? (This seems really unlikely to me.) Or do they depart from the “calorie is a calorie”/”just look at the calories you consume and the calories you burn thru exercise” mindset that seems to be the standard advice these days?

      • Interestingly, I just came across this:
        “Another study published in Food Quality and Preference demonstrated how beliefs can be stronger than facts. People chose 3 slices of bacon (109 calories) as more weight-promoting than a large raisin bran muffin (460 calories) even when the calorie content was printed out for the subjects to see.”

        While, like many readers here, I’m skeptical of how “weight-promoting” either one would be, I wonder if the same thing is going on with the researchers who think this study “really adds to the growing body of literature that emphasizes the need for children and teens to get sufficient amounts of sleep every night as one of the key ways to promote health and prevent weight gain.”

  3. Oh, girl you are so like me! I take those articles apart and shake my head at the stupidity the reporters show. I have been diabetic for nearly 40 years and I read the articles about how sleep loss effects diabetes, or the many other rediculous “new findings” and laugh. New findings? It was usually something common secne has told us for years but the reporters are just now finding this new?
    I hope you have a pleasing day.

  4. I hope you find this an interesting tidbit rather than a nitpick, but that reporter probably didn’t write the headline. Copy editors typically write headlines, and sometimes even re-write lead sentences to add in puns or wordplay. I have had that done to my articles, much to my irritation.

  5. Yeah, I manage to get at least 6-9 hours of sleep a day and I’m still deathfat.

    You would think that the other, more serious effects of sleep deprivation would raise more concern than ZOMGOBESETEENS!!! But that’s what happens when fat is now considered the most deadliest health problem in our society.

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