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Teen Sleep Deprivation and Risk-Taking Behaviors

We can all relate to a sleepless night, but when it happens night after night it’s exhausting. It’s hard to function when we’re sleep deprived. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is what many of our teens are experiencing — and it’s affecting their ability to make good decisions!

According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need 8-10 hours of sleep each night, but only about 15 percent of them are even getting close to that amount. In fact, they’re lucky if they get 7 solid hours of zzz’s a night — and if it’s a school night, odds are many are only averaging around 6 hours. According to the American Psychological Association, 69 percent of youth experience sleep problems one or more times a week. Now that’s a lot of sleepy teens!

There are many reasons for sleep loss. For example, it can be voluntary, like staying up late playing on an electronic device or chatting with friends. According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly 72 percent of youth ages 6-17 sleep with an electronic device in their bedroom, which can result in an hour of sleep loss each night. Not all sleep loss is voluntary though. It can also be caused by insomnia, a sleep disorder that affects approximately 24 percent of adolescents.

Insomnia is characterized by having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early, or any combination of these disturbances. Studies have shown that between 6 percent to 10 percent of adults meet the criteria for an insomnia disorder, in which sleep disturbances occur at a minimum of 3 times per week and are present for 3 months. To top it off, many of these sleep problems begin during the teen years.

In adolescence, teen clocks are wired to fall asleep later and wake-up later. Getting them up at 5:30 AM is like us getting up at 4:00 AM. Aside from being night owls, teen sleep deprivation has also been linked with anxiety, stress, and depression. Regarding depression, one study showed that 90 percent of people who suffer from depression also struggle with insomnia. Sleep deprived teens may try to self-medicate by turning to stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine to make it through the day, but those only provide temporary relief. Some youth may even look for something stronger to help them get through the night, like alcohol.

A study of seventh and eighth-grade students, published in the journal of Addictive Behaviors showed that sleep problems in youth were indeed a risk factor for alcohol use. In this study, researchers examined associations between alcohol use and sleep-related issues. Results indicated alcohol use was significantly correlated with both insomnia and daytime sleepiness. To supplement these findings, there have been numerous studies linking sleep deprivation with drinking, binge-drinking, drinking and driving, and risky sexual behavior. Research indicates teens need sleep to function and perform well; without it, they are in jeopardy to engage in risk-taking behaviors.

Sleep deprivation is a serious matter that can adversely affect a teen’s behavior. If you suspect your teen has a chronic sleep problem, please seek professional attention. At Etheridge Psychology, we can help your child establish healthy sleep routines. We use a variety of evidence-based practices to design customized interventions to meet your child’s specific needs. These services are also offered for adults.

Nothing can recharge a battery like a good night’s sleep. Fortunately, healthy habits can be made to establish good sleep, which will reduce symptoms of sleep deprivation and insomnia. Empower your teen to establish these disciplines in their life. There’s no doubt about it, a well-rested teen is a happier one!

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