Is There a Link Between Sleep And Diet For Teens

Managing sleep and diet is key to helping teens thrive.

By URLife Team
09 Jul 2024

Being a teenager today isn't easy. Between keeping up with school, friends, and social media, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can feel like a juggling act. 

One important, yet often overlooked, part of this balancing act is the link between sleep and diet. Imagine this: a teen who doesn’t get enough sleep might grab sugary snacks to stay awake. Plus, lack of sleep can mess with hunger hormones, leading to cravings and poor food choices. As we explore these connections, it's clear that understanding and addressing sleep and diet is key to helping teens thrive.

According to a 2018 study issued in The National Medical Journal of India, over 64 per cent of Indian teenagers get less than 8 hours of sleep at night; 5.6 per cent sleep less than 6 hours. Approximately 48 per cent of teenagers experience prolonged sleep onset, and about 43 per cent have interrupted sleep.


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Related story: What Happens When You Are Sleep Deprived

The Connection Between Sleep And Diet

As you may know, delaying sleep schedules is normal during puberty and adolescence. However, some adolescents take it to the extreme and end up misaligning their sleep schedule with the natural day-night cycle, as well as their social schedules and responsibilities. According to a 2021 research in the journal Sleep, parents must allow their adolescents to sleep in as long as possible. The study suggests that teens who lack sufficient sleep tend to consume more sugar and carbohydrates, raising their risk of metabolic disorders, obesity, and mental health challenges. It emphasises the importance of ensuring that teenagers get enough sleep for their overall well-being.

It's important to understand that this circadian misalignment of the sleep-wake cycle, and the variability in sleep duration, can have a significant impact on a young person's overall health and well-being. When we're addressing the health and habits of youth, we cannot afford to overlook the crucial role that sleep patterns play. 

Circadian misalignment and irregular sleep can contribute to poor dietary choices and a sedentary lifestyle among young people. Therefore, it's essential to prioritise interventions that take into account the impact of sleep patterns on overall health. By addressing sleep-related issues, we can make meaningful strides in promoting healthy choices and habits among our youth. Let's work together to ensure that teens should be educated on the pros or cons of sleeping late - and parents and guardians should have this conversation with teens.


Related story: 7 Ways To Recover From A Bad Night's Sleep


The Vicious Cycle: The Role of Hunger Hormones (Ghrelin and Leptin)

When teenagers don't get enough sleep, it doesn't just cause havoc with their hunger hormones; it also pushes them toward unhealthy food choices. When tired, the brain looks for quick energy, often making teens crave sugary and high-fat snacks. The mix of high ghrelin, low leptin, and a tired brain wanting fast energy creates a bad cycle. Eating poorly can make it even harder to sleep well, trapping them in a loop of sleep deprivation and unhealthy eating.

Ghrelin signals your brain when it's time to eat, while leptin tells your brain when to stop. Sleep deprivation can cause ghrelin levels to spike, making you feel hungrier, and leptin levels to drop, so the body doesn't get the message to stop eating.


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How Dietary Habits Affect Sleep

Teens' dietary habits have a direct impact on their sleep quality. High-fat and high-sugar foods, in particular, can disrupt your teen's sleep cycle, making it harder for them to fall and stay asleep. 

  • Consuming caffeine, especially in the afternoon or evening, can keep your teen wired and make it difficult to wind down at night. Think of that late-night coffee or energy drink that keeps them buzzing when they should be snoozing.
  • Sugar, on the other hand, might give your teen a quick energy boost, but it can also lead to a crash that leaves them feeling tired and irritable. This can disrupt your teen’s sleep patterns, making it harder to get the restful sleep they need. Plus, high sugar intake can lead to more frequent awakenings throughout the night.

Getting trapped in a cycle of poor sleep and unhealthy eating can have serious long-term health consequences. Chronic sleep deprivation and poor diet can lead to weight gain, increasing the risk of obesity. This, in turn, can raise the likelihood of developing conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure in their later years.


Related story: Natural Sugar or Artificial Sugar? What is Really Good For Your Health


Tips For Better Sleep And Diet For Adolescents

Achieving better sleep and improving your teen’s diet can significantly enhance their overall well-being. By following these practical tips, teens can develop healthier sleep and eating habits, leading to better physical and mental health. Here are some practical tips to help any teen get started:

1. Ensure your teen sticks to a schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.

2. Create a relaxing bedtime routine for your teen: Engage in calming activities before bed, such as reading, taking a warm bath, or practising mindfulness.

3. Ask your teen to limit screen time: Avoid screens (phones, computers, TVs) at least an hour before bed, as blue light can interfere with the sleep cycle.

4. Keep their room dark and cool: A dark, cool environment promotes better sleep. Consider using blackout curtains and keeping the room at a comfortable temperature.

5. Encourage your teen to eat balanced meals: Focus on a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

6. Suggest them to limit caffeine and sugar intake: Avoid consuming caffeine and sugary foods, especially in the late afternoon and evening.

7. Make sure your teen is drinking enough water: Drink plenty of water throughout the day, but reduce intake close to bedtime to avoid frequent trips to the bathroom.

8. Advise your teen to avoid heavy meals before bed: Eating large, heavy meals right before bedtime can cause discomfort and indigestion, making it harder to sleep.

9. Encourage your teen to do physical activity: Regular exercise can help improve sleep quality and overall health. Encourage teens to participate in sports or other physical activities they enjoy.

10. Serve them healthy snacks: Parents must ensure teens have access to healthy snack options, to reduce the temptation to reach for unhealthy alternatives.

In teenagers, sleep deprivation can disrupt hunger hormones, leading to unhealthy food cravings and poor dietary choices. In turn, these poor eating habits can further affect sleep quality, creating a cycle that is difficult to break. By prioritising good sleep hygiene and making mindful dietary choices, teens can break free from this harmful cycle. This is important as such habits can later on carry forward onto adulthood, where they can become worse and lead to chronic ailments. Simple changes, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, reducing screen time before bed, and choosing nutritious foods, can make a huge difference.


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