How Sleep Is Connected to Teens’ Risk of Addiction

Teens need between 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Not only is sleep deprivation connected to addiction … it can be a sign of it. More on what parents can do for their growing kids here.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: The relationship between sleep deprivation and substance use disorder is bi-directional. This article reviews minimum sleep parameters for teens and how parents can support healthy sleep hygiene for their growing kids.



Is Your Kid Getting Enough Sleep?

As the incidence of substance abuse and addiction increases countrywide and the opioid epidemic rages on, most parents are looking into different ways to protect their teens. When thinking of factors that lead to teen addiction, one thing may not make many parents’ lists—sleep deprivation.
Most teens nowadays rarely get enough hours of sleep at night. They’re either staying up late thanks to their studies, social media, video games or the TV. Early the next morning, they drag themselves out of bed to face a new day. We parents might notice their sluggishness and might even make fun of their sleepiness, never thinking that it might lead to anything serious.

What Can Happen to Sleep Deprived Teens

Yet, a growing body of research shows that there’s a strong connection between sleep deprivation and addiction among teens. Several studies have shown that teenagers who get less sleep tend to engage more frequently in substance abuse including using cannabis, alcohol, nicotine or tobacco, increasing their chance of getting addicted.

Furthermore, research indicates that sleep-deprived teens were more likely to:

Poor sleep patterns and insufficient sleep are also considered risk factors for mood disorders and poor mental health in teens, leading to issues like depression and anxiety.

Research Links Sleep Deprivation to Risky Behavior in Teens

Participants who reported having less than 6 hours of sleep a night were found to be twice as likely to use addictive substances like marijuana, alcohol or cigarettes. They were also more likely to have driven under the influence and were 3 times more likely to consider or go through with suicide as well as carry weapons or get into fights.

A similar study conducted by scientists at Idaho State University involved more than 6,500 teens. Researchers gathered data in a series of waves over a number of years, then compared information to determine whether there was any connection between sleep, or lack thereof, and increased substance abuse.

They found that among teens, sleep issues were a significant predictor of alcohol and drug-related problems.

Teenagers in the study who reported trouble sleeping were more likely than others in their age group to binge drink. Additionally, those who got less than 8 hours of sleep were more likely to be current users of marijuana, alcohol and illicit drugs, which increased their risk of addiction to these substances.

The Relationship between Teen Sleep Deprivation and Substance Abuse is Bi-Directional

Even more, the relationship between poor sleep patterns and substance abuse problems in teenagers can run in both directions. Sleep problems such as difficulty falling or staying asleep or insufficient time spent sleeping increase the likelihood of substance use and abuse. However, the more teenagers abuse drugs, the more likely they are to get hooked on them.

In turn, drugs and alcohol are known to negatively affect an individual’s sleep, affecting both sleep quality and quantity and disrupting normal sleep routines.

Another thing to take into account is that sleep deprivation is considered a risk factor for teen depression and anxiety. Depressed or anxious teens are more likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs in an attempt to escape their mental health issues and may thus end up addicted.

Why It’s Crucial for Teens To Get Adequate Sleep

We now know that lack of sleep is a contributing factor to risky behavior and drug addiction in teens but what’s the reason behind it? Why is it so important for teens to get enough shut-eye?

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found that disruption of teens’ normal sleep cycle can significantly increase the risk of substance use by, in part, interfering with the brain functions that control an individual’s experience of reward, emotions, and impulsivity. Sleep deprivation was found to affect the putamen, an area of the brain that plays a part in learning from rewards and goal-based movements. When one is sleep deprived, the putamen is less responsive, driving participants to take higher risks.

Additionally, teenagers’ prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that influences self-control—is underdeveloped. This makes teens prone to having extreme emotional responses to stressors coupled with poor decision making and impulse control. Inadequate sleep only adds more fuel to the fire, wreaking havoc on teens’ already turbulent emotions and it’s therefore not surprising to see such teens making poor decisions when it comes to substance abuse.

How Much Sleep do Teens Need?

Sleep is vital to teen’s mental and physical health. But how much sleep do teenagers actually need?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens between ages 14-17 require 8-10 hours of sleep every night. However, the timing of sleep also matters. As kids grow and enter adolescence, their circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle also changes.

In teens, the release of melatonin—the hormone that’s responsible for regulating sleep—occurs later in the evening, usually at around 11 pm and drops later in the morning. This phenomenon explains why teenagers can be so groggy and sluggish in the morning and so energetic and exuberant later in the day. Due to this, teens benefit more from going to bed at around 11 pm than say at 9 or 10 pm.

What Can Parents Do To Help Their Teens Sleep?

There are several things you can do to make sleep a priority in your home and hopefully minimize your teen’s risk of addiction. These include:

1. Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Having consistent sleep and wake up times goes a long way towards fostering a healthy sleep regimen.

2. Set up rules for technology in the home. Have a digital curfew and keeping electronic devices out of the bedroom. Studies have found that light emitted by electronic devices tends to keep us awake. So, it might be a good idea to limit the use of such devices past a certain hour and to ban them from your kids’ bedrooms.

3. Get physical. Encouraging your teen to exercise and be more physically active. People who exercise are more likely to sleep better at night. Encouraging your teen to play sports or incorporate some physical activity in their daily routine can improve their sleep. You may need to lead the way, so your teen feels more encouraged.

4. Teach or model stress management skills. Helping teens find healthy ways to manage stress. Stressing out about various aspects of their lives can rob teens of a peaceful night’s sleep. Ensure that your teen’s schedule isn’t too hectic and help them find healthy ways of coping with stress, e.g. talking it out, going for therapy, etc.

If you’re a parent, ensuring your teen gets a full night’s rest brings with it the benefits of increased cognition and problem solving skills. It will certainly improve their mental and physical well-being.

The brain does better after it has rested. But helping set up healthy sleep could also help your kid avoid addiction.

And prevention is key!

Your Questions

Do you have any additional questions for Tyler about sleep and addiction risk? Please leave your question(s) or comments in the section below. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.

If you have an immediate need for help, please get in touch with us now. Addiction affects one in three American families. If your child is struggling with alcohol or drug use, the time to act is now. Please give us a call on the hotline number listed on this page. Compassionate recovery specialists are ready to talk you through how we can help.

About the author
Tyler is a freelance writer/journalist, with past experience as the head content writer and outreach coordinator for HelpYourTeenNow. His areas of focus include: parenting, education, social media, addiction, and issues facing teenagers today.
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