Not Enough ZZZs Could Spell Obesity for Your Teen

You get up for a drink of water in the middle of the night and your teen’s bedroom light is still on. They’re texting a friend, watching a movie and listening to music. What they’re not doing – sleeping.

The National Sleep Foundation reports that most adolescents – between the ages of 10 and 18 – need between 8.5 and 9.25 hours of sleep each night.

However, researchers say teens only get, on average, just over seven hours of sleep a night.

Not only can not getting enough sleep cause your teen to lose focus at school, it can also lead to obesity.

The journal Sleep, published a study in their Sept. 1 issue that found that teens who were getting less than eight hours of sleep a night consumed 2.2 percent more calories from fat, ate more snacks and ate more total calories than those who got eight hours or more.

“If you’re not getting enough rest, then you don’t feel like exercising,” said Stacy Burch, Scott & White sleep clinician. “If you don’t get enough exercise, you gain weight and become overweight or obese.”


Many sleep disorders, like sleep apnea are more common in obese patients.

“Sleep apnea deprives the brain of quality of sleep rather than quantity,” said Patricia S. Ritch, MD, PhD, a Scott & White pediatric neurologist. “When the brain is not allowed to rest during sleep, the person feels the effects of sleep deprivation. It is possible that the person misinterprets this negative state as being hungry or needing food as a fuel in an attempt to get some energy.”

But what the person or the teen really needs is continuous or consolidated sleep.

“Sleep is actually pretty complicated and profoundly important,” Dr. Ritch said. “It really is a time for the brain to restore itself.”

It should take between 10 and 15 minutes to fall into light sleep where the person is still susceptible to their environment. After that the sleeper enters deep sleep where they reach a sort of sleep paralysis. Then the body goes back to light sleep to enter dream sleep or rapid eye movement (REM).

“This is the most important stage of sleep,” she said. “It takes about 60 to 90 minutes after first falling asleep for this stage to be reached. During REM sleep the brain is actually more active than it is when a person is awake.”

It is thought, that during this stage of the sleep cycle, that our memories are reinforced, repair is taking place and our brain is prepared for the next day, according to Dr. Ritch.

“If there is any interruption in the sleep cycle, the brain is forced to start over and the quality of sleep is compromised,” she said. “Taking naps during the day usually doesn’t provide enough time to get to dream sleep.”

Avoiding sleeping during the day or in short intervals will help you go to bed and stay in bed.

However, teens have an especially difficult time getting eight hours of continuous sleep.

“The best thing to do to correct this problem is to get [your teen] on a schedule,” Burch said. “School does start early, so they need to get to bed early.”

The sleep clinician also recommends limiting your child’s distractions. Turn off the electronics and create a sleep-inducing environment.

“If the problem doesn’t get better, than parents can call and make an appointment with one of our sleep doctors and get a consultation,” Burch said. “We can even set them up to go through our sleep study and be fitted for a CPAP machine if necessary.”

Dr. Ritch also suggests asking your primary care physician for advice about your child or teen’s sleeping habits.

“Many pediatricians and family practice physicians are well educated in sleep related disorders and can often help determine if the issue is one of quantity of sleep or quality of sleep.”

If the child does need extra help to improve their sleep cycle, the Scott & White Sleep Institute is available to help with initial evaluations, diagnostic testing and treatment for sleep-related disorders from sleep apnea to insomnia.

For more information about sleep disorders or how to schedule an appointment, call the Sleep Institute at 254-724-4187.

Below are some helpful tips to help your teen create an environment fit for sleep:

  1. Create a quiet place to sleep. Turn off the electronics and wear earplugs if necessary.
  2. Try taking a hot bath or shower before you go to sleep.
  3. Turn the air conditioner down to 68 degrees to help your body cool itself. A study found that the body has to cool down to sleep deeply.
  4. If you prefer a dark room, try blackout curtains and keep your door closed.
  5. Play soothing music to create a stress-free environment.
  6. Try sleep-inducing scents or teas like chamomile or lavender.
  7. If you are ill, go to bed an hour earlier than normal. This will help your body heal faster.
  8. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning, even on weekends.
  9. Try reducing your caffeine consumption beginning in the afternoon.

About the author

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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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Not Enough ZZZs Could Spell Obesity for Your Teen