If you’re the parent of a teen, you have a lot of things to worry about. Will he fail math this semester? Will he get into college? Is that new friend of his a racist, or is it just me? How much your teen sleeps or doesn’t sleep might be low on your list of concerns, but there is new research that says you better prioritize it. If you know teens at all you know they don’t sleep enough. They stay up too late texting, or if you’re lucky, studying, and then they have to be to school by 7:30. How can they possibly be getting enough sleep? They’re not and they are at risk for substance abuse as a result.
The Problem of Sleep
Surveys and polls tell us what we already know: teenagers don’t get enough sleep. As much as 45 percent of young adults get too few hours of sleep each night. Even youngsters are struggling. Up to 27 percent of children and pre-teens are not sleeping enough either. Then there are the teens who may want to sleep, but have symptoms of insomnia. Ten percent of teens report having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep every night. You have probably heard that adults should aim for between six and eight hours of sleep every night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens should be getting more than nine hours every night.
Sleepiness Leads to Substance Abuse?
There are some pretty obvious consequences for your teenager when she doesn’t get enough sleep. Her memory and concentration at school suffer. Her mood becomes even more volatile than normal. She may eat too much or eat more junk food in her dazed and sleepy state. A new study has found that the results of poor sleep can be even more serious.
The research comes from psychologist Maria Wong and her colleagues at Idaho State University. They analyzed data from questionnaires and interviews conducted with over 6,000 adolescents who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The data were collected over three different time periods. The researchers looked for sleep problems and tiredness in one time period and substance abuse issues in the next time period. They controlled for any teens that were already abusing substances during the first period of data collection.
What the researchers found was that having sleep difficulties during the first period correlated significantly with problematic drinking and drug use in the second period of surveys. Those teens that didn’t sleep enough or had symptoms of insomnia were more likely to binge drink, drive while under the influence of alcohol, to be sexually active because of drinking and regret it later, and to use illicit drugs.
This study was not the first to make a connection between lack of sleep and later substance abuse, but it is important in a couple of ways. First, previous studies looked at kids in groups already at a high-risk for substance abuse, while this study included a nationally-representative sample. And, the current study included both insomnia and insufficient sleep, while previous work focused only on insomnia.
What Can Parents Do?
The results of the study are troubling, and yes, they give you yet another thing to worry about as a parent. The good news is that you can play an important role in teaching your teen about sleep and to have good sleep hygiene. Share and model good sleep hygiene like not using mobile devices before bed and setting a regular sleep schedule. If your teen shows signs of insomnia, consider seeing your pediatrician or a sleep specialist. You know how serious the consequences of inadequate sleep can be, so take steps now to make sure your teen is sleeping like a baby every night.