1. Headline
  1. Headline
updated 9/1/2010 9:41:46 AM ET 2010-09-01T13:41:46

Teens who skimp on shut-eye eat more fatty foods, a new study suggests.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. Plaza producer: TODAY's #PinkPower event was 'my best day on the job'

      There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t enjoy myself. I love meeting TODAY fans and hearing their stories. But today w...

    2. Guess who's most likely to hand out candy, and which kind they've got
    3. Lunch box hero: You've got to see this dad's amazing napkin art
    4. Derek Jeter's sister: 'He deserves everything that comes to him'
    5. Scary bad: 9 worst Halloween costumes for kids

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.

The findings might explain why previous work has found a link between lack of sleep and obesity in teens.

The results also underscore the importance of sleep for this age group.

"It 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," study researcher Dr. Susan Redline, a professor of medicine in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Mass., told LiveScience.

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 study was published in the Sept. 1 issue of the journal Sleep.

Less sleep, more fat
Getting too little sleep has been linked with obesity for both adults and children. Other studies have shown sleep deprivation may alter levels of the hormones that regulate appetite. However, few studies have attempted to bridge the gap to see whether lack of sleep in a non-laboratory setting leads to a change in eating patterns.

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. The results held even after the researchers took into account factors that might have influenced the association, including gender, age and race, and body mass index, or BMI, a measure of body fat.

    1. Snow-vember Surprise: Why Deep South Is Seeing Frosty Weather
    2. Creative Thinkers More Likely to Cheat
    3. How Morning Snacking Could Damage Your Diet
    4. 'UFOs' Disrupting Search for 'God Particle'
    5. 'Perfect' Celebrity Photos to Get Reality Check

"The relative increase in fat consumption among shorter sleepers by 2.2 percent per day chronically may contribute to cumulative increases in energy consumption that would be expected to increase risk for obesity and cardiovascular disease," Redline said.

When the researchers performed what is called a secondary analysis and looked at the data for each gender separately, they found the results were most significant for girls. However, Redline said these results need to be interpreted with caution since breaking up the data in this way might lead to a false result.

Nonetheless, the finding was somewhat surprising, because previous work has shown the obesity-sleep link to be strongest for boys. The current findings could reflect biological differences between boys and girls in their responses to sleep deprivation, or they could result from factors related to the study design. For instance, it could simply be that girls were better at recalling what they ate than boys, Redline said.

Obesity risk
The researchers suggest hormones might partially explain why getting too little sleep might change eating patterns, and in turn, lead to obesity.

  1. Health highlights
    1. Dance moves to make her swoon

      Using computer-generated avatars, psychologists say they have unlocked the dance moves that will capture a woman's heart. Full story

    2. Ever tried a 'caffeine nap?' 6 tweaks for your health
    3. BPA-laced dental sealants OK for use in kids
    4. Your hair knows when you're going to keel over

Previous work has shown that sleep deprivation causes a decrease in leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, and an increase in ghrelin, a hormone that promotes appetite.

In addition, being awake for longer hours means more opportunities to eat. In fact, the researchers found children who got fewer than eight hours of sleep were more likely to eat early in the morning, between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. It's possible that eating this early, when you're body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm, says you should be asleep, promotes weight gain.

"It may be that the timing of when you eat may influence how effectively you metabolize food," Redline said.

Sleep deprivation might also cause a boost in reward-seeking behavior, including eating fatty foods, the researchers say.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

© 2012 LiveScience.com. All rights reserved.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Joan Lunden: 10 things I wish I knew before I was diagnosed with breast cancer

    From the moment you hear the words ‘You have breast cancer,’ it’s almost like you’re shot out of a cannon. Here are 10 things I wish I knew before I was diagnosed.

    10/1/2014 10:52:45 AM +00:00 2014-10-01T10:52:45
  2. Want to help? A guide to breast cancer charities

    In the United States an estimated 296,000 women and 2,240 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and almost 40,000 women and 410 men will die of the disease. That's one death every 14 minutes, according to the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

    10/1/2014 10:45:11 AM +00:00 2014-10-01T10:45:11
  3. Samantha Okazaki / TODAY
  1. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

    Secret Service director resigns amid scandal

    10/1/2014 7:30:52 PM +00:00 2014-10-01T19:30:52
  1. Texas Ebola patient had contact with kids

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in a press conference on Wednesday that “some school-age children” had been identified as having contact with the man diagnosed with the first case of Ebola in the United States. 

    10/1/2014 5:37:52 PM +00:00 2014-10-01T17:37:52
  1. Carrie Vitt

    5 things we learned from '100 Days of Real Food' blogger Lisa Leake

    10/1/2014 6:30:19 PM +00:00 2014-10-01T18:30:19
  1. Getty Images file

    Brad Pitt loves 'being a father,' raves about kids, Angelina Jolie

    10/1/2014 6:16:00 PM +00:00 2014-10-01T18:16:00