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Teens consume more sugar when they don’t get enough sleep, study finds

Researchers say tired teens consume over 4 more pounds of sugar than their peers

Teen putting more sugar on breakfast
Photo (c) Peter Dazeley - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Brigham Young University explored how teens’ sleeping patterns may impact their physical health. Their work revealed that teens who aren't getting enough sleep may be more likely to consume 4.5 more pounds of sugar each school year. 

“Shortened sleep increases the risk for teens to eat more carbs and added sugars and drink more sugar-sweetened beverages than when they are getting a healthy amount of sleep,” said researcher Dr. Kara Duraccio. 

Lack of sleep leads to worse food choices

The researchers had over 90 teenagers participate in a two-week study that tracked their sleeping and dietary patterns. For one week, the group slept for six and a half hours each night. During the next week, they slept for nine hours each night. The team recorded the participants’ diets over the course of the study while paying close attention to their calorie intake and the types of foods they were eating. 

Ultimately, the researchers identified a clear link between the teens’ sleeping patterns and their dietary choices. Getting less sleep each night was linked with eating fewer fruits and vegetables and more carbs and sugary foods and drinks – especially late at night. The researchers found that sleeping less didn't cause the teens to eat more; instead, they were more attracted to sugary items. 

“We suspect that tired teens are looking for quick bursts of energy to keep them going until they can go to bed, so they’re seeking out foods that are high in carbs and added sugars,” Duraccio said.

Over 4 more pounds per sugar

Over time, consuming more sugar can have significant effects. The researchers explained that when the teens were on the shortened sleep schedule, they consumed 12 extra grams of sugar per day; over the course of the entire school year, this translates to 4.5 pounds of extra sugar. 

The team hopes these findings highlight the importance of sleep on long-term health and wellness. While it may be difficult for teens to stay on a regimented schedule, doing so can help promote better food choices. 

“It’s human nature to think that when we have a long to-do list, sleep should be the first thing to go or the easiest thing to cut out,” Duraccio said. “We don’t recognize that getting enough sleep helps you accomplish your to-do list better. Sleep health should be incorporated into all prevention and intervention modules for child obesity.” 

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