Diet, exercise, and sleep are the three pillars of health, but they are actually more intricately woven together than doctors knew. Teenagers' eating patterns are easily affected by their sleeping patterns, and it may change the course of their development during their fragile yet formative years. Researchers from Penn State University College of Medicine presented this new research at the American Heart Association EPI/Lifestyle 2015 meeting that found teens' sleeping habits affect the way they eat.

For one week, the research team examined 342 teens’ sleeping habits and found they were consistently clocking in an average of seven hours each night, with generally healthy diets. But once the teens slept an hour more or less, their diets took a turn for the worst. They ate an average of 201 more calories each day, consumed an additional 6 grams of fat and 32 grams of carbohydrates, and had a 60 percent higher chance of snacking on a school night. What’s more shocking is that only a one-hour difference led to a 100 percent increased chance of indulging in nighttime snacks on the weekends.

"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," the study lead author Fan He, an epidemiologist at Penn State University College of Medicine, said in a press release. "It may be more important to have a regular sleep pattern than to sleep longer one day and shorter on another. These findings could help us better understand how obesity develops among young people."

Past studies have found teens that don’t get enough regular sleep are at risk for obesity, but the research was largely self-reported. This study was the first to measure teens’ sleeping patterns, physical activity, and dietary habits. Participants were required to wear bracelets that tracked their levels of activity and rest, so researchers could figure out how much sleep they were getting and then compare it to their food journals.

Further studies are necessary to determine exactly why the body reacts to changes in sleep with hunger, but they theorized those who slept less were too tired to be active and turned into snack-binging couch potatoes. Teenagers need to clock in a regular sleeping pattern, or else healthy eating habits will go astray during a pivotal growth period in their lives.

Sleep is a medicine, as far as research goes, and experts continue to investigate how our resting bodies affect our waking selves. Teens should be getting around nine hours of sleep or, at least according to these new findings, a consistent amount around the nine-hour mark. According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who slept an average of five hours a night gained roughly 2 pounds in the course of one week, while those who slept nine hours a night ate fewer carbohydrates and fat, and in turn lost weight.

Sleep-deprived eaters overate carbohydrates, ate fewer calories during breakfast, but more after dinner. The amount of calories change, but also the biology of the fat cells, which when sleep-deprived over time become less sensitive to insulin. At these early stages of enigmatic discovery, researchers cannot be certain of the brain’s role of appetite cravings in periods of sleep deprivation until the study is repeated with efficacy.

Source: He F, Bixler E, Liao J, Berg A, Kawasawa YI, and Fernandez-Mendoza J, et al. American Heart Association EPI/Lifestyle. 2015.