It should come as no surprise that there are health-related consequences to being sleep deprived. But with American teens marked as the most sleep deprived in the world, it's vital that we pay attention. A new study has found that those teens that are also the ones making eating unhealthy foods.

Researchers at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine used the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to examine a 1996 sample of 13,284 teenagers that were an average age of 16 at the time. They found that 18 percent of teens reported fewer than seven hours of sleep each night. These teens were also more likely to consume fast food two or more times per week and less likely to eat healthy food including fruits and vegetables.

"Not only do sleepy teens on average eat more food that's bad for them, they also eat less food that is good for them," Dr. Lauren Hale, associate professor of preventative medicine at the School of Medicine, said in a press release. "While we already know that sleep duration is associated with a range of health consequences, this study speaks to some of the mechanisms, i.e. nutrition, and decision making, through which health outcomes are affected."

The teens were split into three groups: short sleepers (less than seven hours), mid-range sleepers (seven to eight hours), and recommended sleepers (more than eight hours). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least eight hours of sleep each night for adolescents. The study also found these results independent of any factors, such as their socioeconomic status, their family structure, ethnicity, and more.

"We are interested in the association between sleep duration and food choices in teenagers because adolescence is a critical developmental period between childhood and adulthood," Allison Kruger, a community health worker at Stony Brook University Hospital, said. "Teenagers have a fair amount of control over their food and sleep, and the habits they form in adolescence can strongly impact their habits as adults."

Sleep deprivation doesn't only affect American teens either. In study published last month, Australian teens were found to be the most at risk for car crashes when they were deprived of sleep.

At the beginning of the study, 20,000 drivers between the ages of 17 and 24 were given a survey to measure their sleep behavior. Then they were monitored for two years. Any crash that resulted in property damage or death was reported to the researchers. They found that those who slept less than six hours each night were the ones most likely to crash their vehicles.

The larger issue here is sleep. According to two studies from earlier this year, called the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), which tested 900,000 primary and secondary school students on math science, and reading, the United States ranked number one for most sleep deprived students.

Of these students, 73 percent of nine and ten year olds aren't getting enough sleep, while 80 percent of 13 to 14 year olds weren't either.

"I think we underestimate the impact of sleep. Our data show that across countries internationally, on average, children who have more sleep achieve higher in math, science and reading. That is exactly what our data show," Chad Minnich, of the TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center, told BBC.

In the meantime, Hale and her team of researchers hope to use the topic of sleep deprivation to focus on curbing obesity and promoting health interventions.

"If we determine that there is a causal link between chronic sleep and poor dietary choices, then we need to start thinking about how to more actively incorporate sleep hygiene education into obesity prevention and health promotion interventions," Hale said.

 

Source: Martiniuk ALC, Senserrick T, Lo S, et al. Sleep-Deprived Young Drivers and the Risk for Crash: The DRIVE Prospective Cohort Study. JAMA Pediatrics. 2013.