Teenagers and sleep. Two things that never seem to go together at the right time. They’re wide awake in the early hours, then dead to the world when the alarm goes off. Not to mention those weekend lunchtime lie-ins. All are typical teenage sleep habits.
It’s hard to lay down the law when they’re older. As parents, we’re fond of telling them that not getting enough sleep will affect their schoolwork. That it will mess up their body-clock and their concentration levels. Perhaps we need to find a new approach, though. Because it seems that not getting enough sleep could indirectly put our kids’ lives at risk.
Experts say adolescents need between eight and ten hours of sleep each night
A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics reports that there’s a strong link between how much sleep high school students get and how likely they are to indulge in risky behaviours. Experts say adolescents need between eight and ten hours of sleep each night, yet more than 70% are getting far less.
Unsurprisingly, poor sleep patterns tend to result in impaired judgment and a higher likelihood of making poor behaviour choices.
Mathew Weaver, lead author and research fellow, Division of Sleep & Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, said, “We found the odds of unsafe behaviour by high school students increased significantly with fewer hours of sleep. Personal risk-taking behaviours 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.”
Those who slept for fewer than six hours per night were twice as likely to drink alcohol or take drugs than those who slept for eight hours
The study looked at data from 67,615 public and private high school students, collected between 2007 and 2015. Just 30% of those surveyed said they slept for eight hours or more on school nights.
Researchers found that those who slept for fewer than six hours per night were twice as likely to drink alcohol or take drugs than those who reported sleeping eight hours or more. They were also more likely to drive after drinking alcohol, and nearly twice as likely to carry a weapon or get into a fight.
The main differences between the two groups related to mood and self-harm. Those who slept less were three times more likely to consider or attempt suicide. They were four times more likely to need treatment following a suicide attempt.
The results of the study give any parents of teens pause for thought.
“Insufficient sleep in youth raises multiple public health concerns, including mental health, substance abuse, and motor vehicle crashes,” said senior author Elizabeth Klerman, director of the Analytic Modeling Unit, Division of Sleep & Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“More research is needed to determine the specific relationships between sleep and personal safety risk-taking behaviours. We should support efforts to promote healthy sleep habits and decrease barriers to sufficient sleep in this vulnerable population.”
The results of the study give any parents of teens pause for thought. We know lack of sleep can affect concentration – and therefore activities such as driving ability. But how many of us will have considered if it might lead to our kids choosing such risky – and potentially life-threatening – behaviours?
Ensuring our kids get a good night’s sleep is more important than ever.
Their lives could depend on it.