Not getting enough sleep or getting poor quality sleep has consistently been linked to increased risk of developing obesity in adolescence. This is concerning, considering that over two-thirds of teens are sleep deprived, putting a significant portion of youth at risk for poor health consequences. Although the relationship between poor sleep and obesity seems clear, the underlying reasons for this relationship are not.
Dr. Tori Van Dyk from the Department of Psychology recently co-authored a review with collaborators from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center that proposes a model to explain the relationship between sleep and obesity in adolescents (Durracio, Krietsch, Chardon, Van Dyk, & Beebe, 2019). By identifying possible mechanisms of this relationship, the team hoped to highlight new ways to prevent or improve obesity in teens.
After reviewing prior studies, the researchers proposed a model that highlighted ways in which sleep may contribute to teens consuming more calories (i.e., increased energy intake) while burning fewer (i.e., decreased energy expenditure), putting them at risk for weight gain. Biobehavioral factors such as hunger, food reward, and metabolic disturbance; eating patterns such as meal skipping, snacking, and poor dietary choices; and activity patterns such as limited physical activity, increased sedentary behavior, and more screen time were reviewed as possible consequences of poor sleep that would impact the balance of calories consumed and burned. Although more research is needed to reach firm conclusions, currently the mechanisms with the most support include disrupted meal timing (e.g., skipping breakfast), the way food is perceived or experienced (i.e., food reward), decreased insulin sensitivity, and increased sedentary behaviors like screen time.
The model mostly focused on individual-level influences. However, other important factors were discussed, such as the likelihood that race, economic background, genetics, and eating and activity patterns learned from family members may further increase the risk for sleep-related weight gain. Overall, the researchers concluded that healthcare providers should consider helping teens improve their sleep as a way to prevent weight gain or promote weight loss.