Study: 7 in 10 teens don’t get enough sleep, raising risk for drug use, suicidal thoughts

BOSTON — Getting enough sleep every night is tough for many wide-eyed adolescents, particularly as their blossoming social lives collide with the pressures from school and extracurricular activities. According to sleep experts, teenagers need between eight and ten hours of sleep every night, but a new study finds that when they’re not meeting that standard, they’re more prone to risky behaviors.

Previous research determined that teens who don’t get enough sleep at night are more likely to suffer from learning disorders, impaired judgement, and the risk of adverse behavior.

For this latest study, experts at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed data on 67,615 high schoolers between 2007 and 2015 who participated in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey. Participants were polled on personal safety risk-taking behaviors along with their sleep patterns.

The authors found just 30 percent of students regularly slept for the recommended eight hours on school nights — which means 7 in 10 high school students are at risk of making unsafe decisions.

“We found the odds of unsafe behavior by high school students increased significantly with fewer hours of sleep,” says lead author Dr. Mathew Weaver, research fellow at the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders in Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in a statement. “Personal risk-taking behaviors are common precursors to accidents and suicides, which are the leading causes of death among teens and have important implications for the health and safety of high school students nationally.”

When compared to high school students who regularly slept at least eight hours every night, students who slept six hours or less were twice as likely to use alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, or other drugs, and drive drunk. They were also twice as likely to report carrying a weapon or getting into a fight.

Mood and self-harm seemed to be particularly affected by less-than-optimal sleep schedules. Teens who logged less than six hours of shuteye were more than three time likely to consider or attempt suicide, and four times as likely to attempt suicide, resulting in treatment.

“Insufficient sleep in youth raises multiple public health concerns, including mental health, substance abuse, and motor vehicle crashes,” says senior author Dr. Elizabeth Klerman, director of the Analytic Modeling Unit, Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “More research is needed to determine the specific relationships between sleep and personal safety risk-taking behaviors. We should support efforts to promote healthy sleep habits and decrease barriers to sufficient sleep in this vulnerable population.”

The study was published in the December 2018 edition of JAMA: Pediatrics.

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