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Sleep duration and adiposity in older adolescents from Otago, New Zealand: relationships differ between boys and girls and are independent of food choice

Paula ML Skidmore1*, Anna S Howe1, Maria A Polak12, Jyh Eiin Wong13, Alex Lubransky1, Sheila M Williams4 and Katherine E Black1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Human Nutrition, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand

2 Department of Psychology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand

3 School of Healthcare Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur 50300, Malaysia

4 Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand

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Nutrition Journal 2013, 12:128  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-12-128

Published: 14 September 2013



While relationships between sleep and BMI have been extensively studied in younger children the effect of sleep duration on adiposity in adolescents, who are undergoing rapid growth periods, is less well known. There is also a lack of consistent evidence on the role of sleep on other measures of adolescent body composition which may be more reflective of health than BMI in this age group. Previous research investigating whether these relationships differ between sexes is also inconsistent. Therefore the objective of this study was to investigate relationships between sleep duration and multiple body composition measures in older adolescents and to investigate if these relationships differ between boys and girls.


A web-based cross-sectional survey and anthropometric measurement of 685 adolescents (mean age 15.8 years) from 11 schools in Otago, New Zealand. Height and weight were measured by trained researchers and fat mass and fat-free mass were estimated using bio-impedance. Generalised estimating equations were used to examine associations between sleep duration and the following body composition measures: BMI, waist circumference (WC), waist-to-height ratio (WHtR), fat mass index (FMI), and fat-free mass index (FFMI). Analyses were adjusted for ethnicity, deprivation, the number of screens in the bedroom and fruit and vegetable consumption.


When data from all participants were analysed together, no significant relationships were seen between sleep duration and any body composition measure but significant sex interactions were seen. An hour increase in average nightly sleep duration in boys only was associated with decreases of 1.2% for WC, 0.9% for WHtR, 4.5% for FMI and 1.4% for FFMI in multivariate models. Similar results were seen for weekday and weekend night sleep duration.


Sex specific factors may play a role in relationships between sleep and body composition in older adolescents. The results in boys were most pronounced for FMI, a measure of total adiposity, which suggests that insufficient sleep in adolescent boys may affect fat mass more than lean mass and that the use of measures such as BMI may result in an under-estimation of relationships.

Sleep; Body composition; Adolescents; New Zealand