Teenagers' cravings for sugar may increase if they get less sleep, a study claims.

August 9, 2022

According to a study published in the journal Sleep, youth who slept less than the advised amount of time were more likely than those who slept more to eat items that raise blood sugar levels, increasing their risk of becoming overweight, obese, and developing type 2 diabetes.

"Shortened sleep increased the risk for teens to eat more carbs and added sugars, and drink more sugar-sweetened beverages than when they were getting a healthy amount of sleep," says the study's lead author, Kara Duraccio, PhD, a clinical and developmental psychology professor at Brigham Young University.

About the Study

93 teens' eating habits were examined by researchers. They looked at their daily calorie intake, macronutrient composition, food preferences, and glycemic loading. In addition, they conducted a weeklong analysis of participants' sleep habits, dividing them into two groups: short sleepers, who averaged approximately 6 1/2 hours per night, and healthy sleepers, who averaged about 9 1/2 hours per night. According to Duraccio, both groups consumed roughly the same number of calories. However, those who slept fewer hours just ate more high-carbohydrate, added-sugar items.

"We suspect that tired teens are looking for quick bursts of energy to keep them going until they can go to sleep, so they're seeking out foods that give them that," she says.

Ripple Effect

According to Jodi Mindell, PhD, author of A Clinical Guide to Pediatric Sleep, sleep is necessary for everyone, but adolescents in particular need more sleep overall and are renowned for not getting enough of it. Teenagers typically get around 7 hours of sleep per night, according to Mindell. The majority of teens need at least 9 hours of sleep, according to research, which Dr. Mindell attributes to a few key problems. For instance, teens' biologically altered sleep schedule makes them stay up later and wake up later. They have to contend with early high school start times, nighttime social and academic schedules, and other obligations that keep them up later.

"As a result of these factors, most adolescents are very sleep-deprived," she says. "That sleep deprivation will impact many aspects of a teenager's functioning, including mood, behavior, attention, decision making, and academic performance."

Poor eating practices might be included in that list as well, as the most recent study reveals, adding to the cascade of problems. For instance, a research in Brazil that examined the prevalence of added sugar consumption among teenagers discovered that those who consumed more sugar also had poorer overall food quality and spent more time using electronics.

Adults Affected, Too

Although the latest study focused on the effects on adolescents, the conclusions may also apply to adults. For instance, examining individuals who work shifts, who consequently have erratic sleeping patterns, offers a glimpse of the relationship between inadequate sleep and a poor diet.

"There are many difficulties when it comes to dietary recommendations for shift workers," says Arne Lowden, PhD, at the Stress Research Institute at the University of Stockholm in Sweden. "Most notably, they tend to rely on convenience foods, such as sugary treats and high-carbohydrate choices to maintain energy during a shift."

But that behavior adds more than just calories. The circadian rhythm misalignment that results from staying up late can also cause glucose intolerance, according to a 2021 study published in Science Advances. In that study, those who skipped meals during their shifts had better-regulated glucose levels, suggesting that eating at night may have a significant impact on your metabolism. Choosing sweet foods may be an additional obstacle.

The Sleep-Sugar Connection

According to a prior study, non-shift workers may experience the same problems as shift workers with reduced sleep and food options. Shorter sleep duration has been associated with higher appetite and obesity in general, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Sleep Health. Overall, participants who got 5 hours or less of sleep per night consumed 21 percent more sugar-sweetened beverages during the day. This suggests that sleep deprivation can increase sugar cravings, and that increased sugar consumption can also harm sleep, creating a vicious cycle.

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