Sleepy teens are more likely to have a strong craving for carbohydrates, suggests a recently presented research abstract.

Results show that the intensity of self-reported craving for carbohydrates increased in a linear relationship with the severity of subjective daytime sleepiness. The odds of having a strong craving for carbs were 50% higher among high school seniors with excessive daytime sleepiness. The rate of depression also was higher among students who had a strong craving for carbohydrates (34%) than among students who had little or no craving for carbs (22%). Students experiencing strong depression were almost three times more likely to have a strong craving for carbohydrates.

"This is one of the first studies in a high school population to show a linear relationship between carbohydrate craving and sleep deprivation," said principal investigator Dr Mahmood Siddique, director of Sleep and Wellness Medical Associates and clinical associate professor of medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. "In particular, as sleep deprivation increased, self-reported carbohydrate craving also increased. Further, the risk of carbohydrate craving was especially strong among depressed students."

The study involved 262 high school seniors attending a public high school in Mercer County, New Jersey. They had a mean age of 17.7 years. Participating students completed the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS), a validated depression scale, and a scale to gauge carbohydrate craving. Twelve percent of students reported the highest level of craving for carbs.

According to Siddique, sleep plays an important role in the regulation of metabolism and appetite. Insufficient sleep can throw the metabolic system out of balance, affecting dietary choices and promoting weight gain.

"This study is important given the rising epidemic of obesity among teens as well as increasing metabolic syndrome and diabetes among young adult populations," Siddique said. "This study highlights the importance of diagnosing sleep deprivation as a risk factor for obesity among young adults. Those who are depressed and sleep-deprived may be at special risk for obesity."

The study was presented at SLEEP 2011, the 25th Anniversary Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC (APSS).