Lack of sleep leads teens to risky behaviors, study finds

Photo (c) skynesher - Getty Images

Researchers say tired teens are more prone to substance abuse, drinking and driving, and suicide

Lack of sleep affects everyone -- young and old -- and the side effects of sleep deprivation can be felt far beyond just one night.

Based on a new study by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, parents may be more inclined to ensure their teens are getting the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep per night.

The study found that high school students who sleep less than six hours per night are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, including substance abuse or drinking and driving.

“We found the odds of unsafe behavior by high school students increased significantly with fewer hours of sleep,” said lead author of the study Matthew Weaver, PhD. “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.”

Power of sleep

To see just how powerful sleep can be for teens’ decision-making, Dr. Weaver and his team looked at survey results that followed teenagers from 2007-2015.

Every two years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) produces the Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, and the researchers evaluated responses from 67,615 private and public high school students, taking into account race, sex, and age.

The findings showed the differences in teens’ behaviors when they slept for less than six hours, as opposed to those who slept for eight hours each night. Overall, only one-third of the teens who participated in the survey reported getting at least eight hours of sleep -- on average -- on school nights.

The study found that teens who slept less than six hours per night were four times as likely to receive treatment from attempted suicide and three times as likely to think about or attempt suicide. Similarly, the lack of sleep lead teens to be twice as likely to drive under the influence, drink alcohol, smoke marijuana and tobacco, and get into fights.

“Insufficient sleep in youth raises multiple public health concerns, including mental health, substance abuse, and motor vehicle crashes,” said the study’s senior author Elizabeth Klerman, PhD. “We should support efforts to promote healthy sleep habits and decrease barriers to sufficient sleep in this vulnerable population.”

Long-standing effects

The negative effects that are associated with lack of sleep have been shown to last beyond just the teenage years.

A recent study out of Michigan State University found that sleep deprivation impedes people’s efforts in completing tasks and their overall memory function throughout the day.

The study’s lead author Kimberly Fenn noted that many simple mistakes are made during people’s work days because of sleep deprivation, though some are more detrimental than others. Fenn noted that students who stay up all night studying for exams are likely not to remember the material they spent all night memorizing. Additionally, she references train and car accidents, as well as the Challenger Explosion, Chernobyl, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill as other incidents that can all be traced back to sleep deprivation in some way.

The full study that was recently published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology is available here.

Take a Home Warranty Quiz. Get matched with an Authorized Partner.