Saturday, September 4, 2010

How School Schedules Lead to Overeating

A story on reports on a study that reinforces a long-established scientific idea that there is a connection between lack of sleep and weight gain. This study, though, focused specifically on teenagers, and it strongly suggested that the causality goes both ways. Excess food can keep people awake later at night, and lack of sleep can lead people to seek more energy from food — especially when eating an early breakfast. Much of the stress may be caused by an externally imposed schedule that forces students to get out of bed at an unnaturally early hour.

More of the sleep-deprived teens consumed a significant amount of calories between the hours of 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.

When I was a teenager, I found it hard to get up at 6:25 a.m. to catch a bus at 6:50 for classes that started shortly after 8. Now that I have more control over my schedule, I tend to sleep until what I consider the more civilized hour of 7. These days, though, many school districts operate more than an hour earlier, forcing students out of bed between 4 and 5. To make matters worse, daylight time was recently extended to cover half of the school year, which means students are really getting up as early as 3. It should be no surprise if this unnatural schedule messes up students’ entire day, including what they eat.

According to the new study, teenagers who sleep less (for example, 7 hours, instead of 8) are more likely to eat high-energy foods. This fits the intuitive idea that if you aren’t able to restore your energy with sleep, you might rely more on food to maintain a functioning energy level, which in turn could lead to weight gain.

There is no easy answer for teenagers who are forced to start their day 3 1/2 hours before sunrise. Still, the conventional advice about food and sleep holds: sleep enough, if you can, and don’t eat when you should be sleeping.