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For every hour of lost sleep, teens become more likely to commit suicide and take drugs

sleep deprived teenager

Image credit: Pixabay/HASTYWORDS

Teenagers should be getting between seven to 11 hours of sleep, with eight to 10 hours being the current recommendation from the National Sleep Foundation.

However, it has been suggested that as many as 69% of high school students get seven hours of sleep or less. Furthermore, close to half have reported serious difficulty when it comes to staying awake at school.

Childhood sleep deprivation is a big problem in the United States and can lead to a number of health and lifestyle problems including:

A study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that  just one extra hour of weekday sleep  can reduce the odds of:

Researchers investigated self-reported weekday sleep duration and its association with feelings of hopelessness, suicidality, and substance abuse in almost 28,000 eighth, 10th, and 12th grade students in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Sleep duration was measured by a survey question that asked:

On an average school night, how many hours of sleep do you get?

Response categories were: four or less hours, five hours, six hours, seven hours, eight hours, nine hours, and ten or more hours.

Hopelessness/suicidality was measured by the following three survey questions:

During the past 12 months, did you ever feel so sad or hopeless almost every day for 2 weeks or more in a row that you stopped doing some usual activities?

During the past 12 months, did you ever seriously consider attempting suicide?

During the past 12 months, did you ever actually attempt suicide?

Substance abuse was measured by a question that asked how many occassions over the past 30 days the child had used a specific substance. The list of substances included cigarettes, alcohol, hallucinogens, cocaine, and prescription drugs without a doctor's order.

The findings

For every hour of lost sleep,  student hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and substance use increased significantly .

For students who got nine hours of sleep:

  • 19.2% felt hopeless
  • 8.1% considered suicide
  • 1.8% attempted suicide
  • 14.1% used tobacco, alcohol or marijuana in the previous 30 days
  • 7.3% used illicit/prescription drugs in the previous 30 days

For students who only managed four hours of sleep:

  • 51.6% felt hopeless
  • 31.5% considered suicide
  • 13.3% attempted suicide
  • 39.5% used tobacco, alcohol or marijuana in the previous 30 days
  • 22.9% used illicit/prescription drugs in the previous 30 days

After further analysis of the data, researchers found that for each hour of sleep loss, the odds of:

  • Feeling sad and hopeless increased by 38%
  • Seriously considering suicide increased by 42%
  • Attempting suicide increased by 58%
  • Using tobacco, alcohol or marijuana increased by 23%
  • Using illicit/prescription drugs increased by 37%

Interestingly, researchers also found that  girls averaged less sleep than boys , with the difference becoming more pronounced in the transition from middle school to high school, and that  Asian, black and hispanic students averaged less sleep than white students .

What can be done?

It's clear that childhood sleep deprivation is a serious problem. Early school start times may be a contributing factor - it's worth noting that students in Fairfax County begin school at 7.20am.

It's important for us to monitor and regulate the sleep habits of our children. This includes setting a regular (and appropriate) bedtime and restricting evening activities that harm sleep.

The fact of the matter is, however, that adolescent body clocks can make it difficult for teens to fall asleep before midnight.

Campaigning for later school start times may be the single best thing we can do for the sleep (and well-being) of our children.

Source: Journal of Youth and Adolescence

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Last updated: September 29, 2016

This Article Was Written By

Martin Reed

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