Irregular Sleep  Leads to SnackingWhen teenagers have irregular sleep schedules, they are more likely to snack, finds new research from Penn State University. A number of studies have linked reduced sleep to overeating and obesity. This study links inconsistent sleep to increased calorie consumption and snacking among teens. The study is the first in this field to use objective data on sleep time in an analysis of how sleep is linked to calorie intake.

The researchers gathered data about the sleep habits of 342 teenagers, average age 17, from the Penn State Child Cohort follow-up study. For seven days, the teens wore actigraphy bracelets, which measured their cycles of activity and how long they slept each night. The teens completed questionnaires about what they typically eat, reporting how many calories, snacks, and macronutrients they regularly consume. The researchers then analyzed the relationship between sleep time and food intake, adjusting the results for sex, age, race, and body mass index.

Teens slept an average of seven hours each night, sleeping more on weekends than on weekdays. When the teens’ sleep time varied by an hour, whether it was an hour more or an hour less, the teens increased their food consumption, eating an average of 201 more calories per day. An hour of sleep variance was also linked to consuming 6 more grams of fat and 32 more grams of carbohydrates each day. Finally, the hour of sleep variance was associated to a 60 percent higher chance of night-time snacking on school nights and a 100 percent higher chance of night-time snacking on weekends.

Lead study author Fan He, M.S., epidemiologist at Penn State University College of Medicine, said of the findings, “According to the data from our study, it’s not how long you sleep that matters. It’s about day-to-day variations in how long you sleep.”

This effect may be the result of teens being sluggish when they do not sleep enough, which might make them more sedentary and more inclined to snack. The change in sleep amounts could also trigger a hormonal shift, which spurs teens to snack.

It is recommended that teenagers sleep between 9 and 10 hours each night.

This research was presented at the American Heart Association EPI/Lifestyle 2015 meeting.

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