Teens who think sleep is overrated should guess again, according to a recent study conducted at Columbia University in New York that suggests sleep deprivation during adolescence could lead to obesity.
The research team concluded that 16-year-olds who log less than six hours of sleep per night have a 20% increase in their risk of becoming obese by age 21 when compared to those who slept eight hours per night.
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"Lack of sleep in your teenage years can stack the deck against you for obesity later in life," says Shakira F Suglia, ScD, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health. "Once you're an obese adult, it is much harder to lose weight and keep it off."
Suglia and her colleagues are the first to study the long-term effects of sleep deprivation in the teenage years and their results could be some of the strongest evidence to come indicating a risk for elevated body mass index.
The research team collected their data from 10,000 Americans aged 16 to 21 who were participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, interacting with them during home visits in 1995 and 2001 to survey their height and weight.
Almost one fifth of the 16-year-olds reported sleeping less than six hours per night, and by age 21, this group was 20% more likely to be obese than peers who reported eight hours of sleep per night.
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Researchers say lack of physical activity contributed to participants' obesity but did not account for the relationship between the obesity and sleep deprivation.
Although they had expected to find a difference between boys and girls and how their bodies responded to sleeplessness, none were found pertaining to obesity.
"The message for parents is to make sure their teenagers get more than eight hours a night," says Suglia. "A good night's sleep does more than help them stay alert in school. It helps them grow into healthy adults."
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend nine to 10 hours of sleep for teenagers. The study was published in Journal of Pediatrics.