Study: Teens’ Sleep Deprivation May Lead to Obesity


Teens between the ages of 13 and 18 should sleep between 8 and 10 hours every night, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. However, the Spanish study discovered that by the age of 12, only 34% of participants in the study got a complete 8 hours of sleep per night. When respondents reached the age of 14, the percentage dropped to 23%, and at 16, it plummeted to 19%. When the data for overweight and obesity were combined, 21% of 12 year olds fell into that group; at 14, the number grew to 24%; and by 16, when sleep was at its lowest, the figure increased to 27%.

These findings do not surprise Laura Sterni, MD, head of the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Sleep Center. We are not doing enough to ensure that our teenagers have a healthy sleep schedule, she argues. “The major consequence is enormous, and there are a handful of factors that exacerbated the situation.”

When it comes to the obesity connection, lack of sleep isn’t quite there yet, but it’s a possibility.

“Right now, it’s correlation rather than causation,” says Bruce Bassi, MD, medical director and creator of TelepsychHealth, an online counseling company. Insomnia has negative consequences that run counter to your goals. Lack of sleep activates the immature parts of our brains, making us more prone to tantrums and prompting us to seek comfort in eating.

“We’re receiving more evidence all the time,” Sterni adds of the discovery that lack of sleep contributes to obesity. Obesity risk factors appear to have a dosage response, according to the authors.

According to a Spanish study, the less sleep a teen receives, the more likely they are to grow overweight or obese.

“We know that not getting enough sleep causes changes in crucial hormone control and metabolic parameters,” Sterni explains. It reduces levels of hormones that cause satiety and, in turn, increases hunger.

Lack of sleep also affects how the body metabolizes glucose, which leads to insulin resistance and makes consuming bad carbs more enticing to the body, according to Sterni.

Then there’s the reality that when you’re up late, you have more opportunities to consume, perhaps mindlessly munching on poor things while watching TV,” she notes. As a result of your daytime snoozing, you have less motivation to work out. Lifestyle considerations enter the picture.”

Today’s teenagers are famously busy, which does not promote consistent, regular nighttime routines. Bedtimes can be pushed later by social engagements, sports, and club and school commitments. When you add it all together, a lack of sleep can set teens up for a lifetime of health problems, many of which are caused by being overweight.

How to Assist Your Teen with their Sleep

While the data is depressing, there are critical steps parents may do to help their teens develop better sleeping habits.

According to Sterni, “the good news is that there is some data demonstrating that if you teach families and young people about the importance of sleep, they will listen and attempt to keep healthy sleep habits.” Similar to how you wouldn’t skip cleaning your teeth, you should always strive to obtain enough of it.

According to Bassi, one of the most sensible places to start is by encouraging earlier bedtimes.

“For most teenagers, the endpoint of sleep is predetermined because of school,” he says, so instead of worrying about what time they go to sleep, you should concentrate on getting them to bed. I would recommend reducing stimulation in the hours before night and practicing better sleep hygiene.

Setting up appropriate screen-time habits is a key part of the strategy Greg F. and his partner have chosen. They set clear and fast rules for their devices as parents of a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old.

Greg continues, “They are only allowed to use their phones in the common parts of the house, and they must be turned off at 8:45 every night.” They are not permitted to use their phones in the morning until they have had breakfast and performed their morning responsibilities. We think it’s better for them to obtain both a night’s worth of sleep and a full day’s worth of rest before picking up their phones.

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