We parents fight the good fight trying to get our teens to sleep more, but so often we lose to all the things in their lives that keep them up late into the night. Teens are laden with homework, overscheduled with extra-curricular activities and the alluring glow of their electronic devices keep them interacting with friends long past their optimal bedtimes.
Previous studies showed that lack of sleep in teens caused, “learning difficulties, impaired judgment and risk of adverse health behaviors.” Now a brand-new study released by researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Boston raises new concerns for parents of sleep-deprived teens. The study found a notable connection between, “sleep duration and personal safety risk-taking actions.”
When the researchers compared students, who had a sufficient night’s sleep with teens who had not, and then asked them to self-report certain behaviors they found that those who had slept less than six hours a night were twice, and it bears repeating, twice as likely to use alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other drugs or exhibit aggressive behaviors. They were also twice as likely to exhibit risk taking while driving which included driving after drinking. And, they were also twice as likely to self-report carrying a weapon or participating in a fight.
Using data from 67,615 high school students over the years 2007 and 2015, the study’s authors also found that sleep deprivation was most strongly linked to mood and self-harm. “Those who slept less than six hours were more than three times as likely to consider or attempt suicide, and four times as likely to attempt suicide, resulting in treatment,” the report explained.
“We found the odds of unsafe behavior by high school students increased significantly with fewer hours of sleep,” said lead author Mathew Weaver, PhD, research fellow, Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “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.”
In addition, the study concluded that, “Insufficient sleep in youth raises multiple public health concerns, including mental health, substance abuse, and motor vehicle crashes,” said senior author Elizabeth Klerman, MD, PhD, director of the Analytic Modeling Unit, Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Doctors tell us that for optimal health teens should sleep between 8-10 hours a night. Fewer than 30% of teens actually get that much shut eye most nights.
So, while parents have long worried, and rightly so, about teens driving fatigued or underperforming academically because of being sleep-deprived, this study must give parents pause. This new study reveals very serious potential risks that our teens face because of their busy lives. And those risks are not limited to academics or dangerous driving but include mood and self-harm issues. The study concludes that “More research is needed to determine the specific relationships between sleep and personal safety risk-taking behaviors.”
In the meantime, parents, schools, coaches and mentors should impress upon teens the need for a minimum of eight hours of sleep a night. We adults should not only teach and model healthy sleep habits, we should make it possible for teens to actually have the time and therefore the capacity to get a healthy night’s sleep. Their lives may depend on it.
Note: The study covered students, all of whom self-reported (anonymously), in all four years of high school with the highest representation from 9th graders.