Study tests sleep - weight link

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 24/09/2012
Shekanah Ranga
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ

SLUMBER PARTY: Shekanah Ranga, 14, and her mother, TJ Ranga, prepare for the world-first study investigating the effect of poor sleep on body size. Modern devices such as iPads are also believed to contribute.

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The lure of her iPad prevents 14-year-old Shekanah Ranga from getting to sleep before midnight.

She is often so tired during the day she has to take an afternoon nap.

The Porirua teenager will be one of 40 Wellingtonians aged 13 to 16 to take part in a world-first study to find out the effects of poor sleep on body size.

Massey University researcher Geoff Kira is calling for 15 more participants from Porirua for the study to start next month.

The teens and one of their family members will have their weight and fitness monitored for a year, while taking part in nutrition and exercise workshops. An intervention group will also focus on improving their sleep duration and quality.

Shekanah's mother, TJ Ranga, considers herself a bad sleeper, and getting her daughter to turn off her iPad at night is a struggle.

"I have always had trouble sleeping. And I have been overweight most of my life," she said.

She hoped being part of the study with her daughter would change that.

"It would be interesting to see if you sleep a lot whether you burn off energy and fat."

Ms Ranga said it was a lot easier getting her sons aged 6 and 8 to bed than her teenaged daughter. "A lot of people have trouble sleeping, especially teenagers. They go to bed late and wake up late."

Even when she finally got to bed about midnight, Shekanah was often still wide awake and playing on her iPad in bed. "Half the time I think she is already asleep."

Her bedtime was meant to be 9.30pm, but she said she "didn't know that".

Shekanah knew it was important to get at least eight hours' sleep, but found it hard to switch off.

"I feel better if I go to sleep early, like 10pm, but that's early for me."

She would spend longer trying to put her virtual Sim game characters to bed on her iPad than focusing on getting an early night herself.

Dr Kira hoped the first study of teen sleep improvement would prove the relationship between poor sleep and obesity.

"Adolescents have the worst sleep patterns of all the age groups and are therefore particularly at risk of being overweight or obese,” he said.

He predicted teens would lose weight as their sleep patterns improved. The blue light emitted from technology, such as laptops, often decreased sleep hormones, so removing them from the bedroom was also important, he said.

“The adult is in charge of sleep at home, not the adolescent. So I'm hoping they will change the home environment to improve sleep for everyone."

Anyone keen to take part can email g.kira@massey.ac.nz, call 06 3569099 ext 81564 or 04 380 2070 ext 250.

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- The Dominion Post

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