Late nights, poor sleep lead to kids eating more junk food

Children and teenagers who have too many late nights were two to three times more likely to eat junk food at least five times a week. (AFP Relaxnews pic)

The large-scale study by researchers at the University of South Australia examined the sleep and eating behaviours of 28,010 schoolchildren aged between 9 to 17 years, using data taken from 368 government and independent schools in South Australia.

After taking into account factors such as age, sex and socioeconomic status, the researchers found that the chance of missing breakfast was significantly higher in children who reported poor sleep or later bedtimes, with later bedtimes also linked to a significantly higher chance of eating junk food.

Children who regularly went to bed after 11pm were four to five times more likely to eat fewer than three breakfasts a week, and two to three times more likely to eat junk food at least five times a week.

Lead researcher Dr Alex Agostini said that the findings demonstrate the links between sleep and diet among school children.

“Sleep is important for everyone’s health and wellbeing, but when children and teenagers are regularly missing breakfast or eating junk food, their bodies and minds can suffer,” Agostini commented. “When children have poor sleep and go to bed late at night, it increases their chance of missing breakfast the next morning. Late bedtimes also increase the odds of children and teenagers eating junk food more often, which is never a good thing — not only does it lack nutritional benefit, but it also contributes to the growing concerns around childhood obesity.”

Co-researcher Professor Kurt Lushington added that the study also revealed that a large proportion of those taking part in the study was sleep-deprived.

“The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9-11 hours’ sleep for children aged 6-13 years and 8-10 hours’ sleep for children aged 14-17 years. Yet according to these standards, 16 per cent of children in this study were not getting enough sleep,” he said.

“Good quality sleep — and enough of it — is important for children and adolescents. Without it, children not only develop fatigue and behavioural and emotional problems but also make poor food choices.”

“Promoting healthy sleep and a nutritional diet for children and teenagers is critical if we are to help them realise their best potential, physically and psychologically,” said Lushington.

The results were published in the Journal of Sleep Research.