Less Sleep means Risky Behavior for Teens

Teenagers who get less sleep at more risk for unhealthy behaviors

(RxWiki News) It's an often amusing characterization of teenagers, that they stay up late and don't get enough sleep.

But it may be much more serious. Fully two-thirds of all adolescent students don't get enough hours of sleep on school nights, and that lack of sleep is associated with a number of risky behavior patterns.

"Too little sleep for teens can result in unhealthy behaviors."

Lela McKnight-Eily, MD, and colleagues studied data from the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which reported that just under 70 percent of students got less than eight hours of sleep nightly.

The research team associated that lack of sleep with a higher incidence of several risky behaviors, including drug and alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts and physical inactivity.

The YRBS included responses from 12,154 students in grades nine through 12, attending high school in all 50 states. Compared to students who got eight or more hours of sleep per night, the sleep-deprived students were at higher risk for:

  • alcohol use
  • cigarette use
  • marijuana use
  • sexual activity
  • suicidal ideation
  • depressive episodes
  • physical fighting
  • sedentary activities such as computer use.

The researchers believe that the increase in risky behavior for the sleep-deprived teenagers is due to their lowered ability to understand the consequences, as well as a higher susceptibility to peer pressure. Other factors associated with lack of sleep, such as lowered alertness, concentration and coordination, also contribute to the unhealthy behaviors.

The findings were published in the journal Preventive Medicine in August 2011.

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Review Date: 
September 30, 2011