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Do Teen Sleep Deprivation and Drug Abuse Go Hand-in-Hand?

sleep deprivation and teen drug abuse

Does your teen have trouble waking for school in the morning? Is he or she staying up all hours of the night? Is your teen losing sleep to social media, computer games, or late night parties? And are you, as a parent, losing communication with your teen?

Staying up late, oversleeping, and sleep deprivation have long been associated with the teenage years. Teenagers are constantly coming home late, talking on the phone into the early morning, and sleeping through their alarms. In some sense, this is to be expected. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, the natural sleep cycle of adolescents typically occurs between 11pm and 8am. Over this nine-hour span, the adolescent brain slowly releases sleep-inducing chemicals.

Of course, there are many factors that can deter teens from getting the appropriate amount of sleep. Chaotic school schedules and stressful assignments, for example, can keep students up past their bedtimes to study. Video games, social media, cellphones, and watching TV can also trigger wakefulness at night. Premature waking (before 8am) can lead to tired teens.

As a parent, you may notice that your teen has progressively developed an erratic sleep cycle, or is feeling sleep deprived on a regular basis. But when, exactly, does this become worrisome? What risks are associated with teen sleep deprivation? Is your teen’s lack of sleep correlated with drug use?

For years, we have known that substance abuse can disturb a healthy sleep cycle. Tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs have a distinct impact on one’s ability to sleep throughout the night. In fact, many illicit drugs (and their withdrawal periods) can cause insomnia in users of all ages. If your teen is constantly tired, coming home late or not coming home at all some nights, drug or alcohol use may be to blame.

Or, perhaps it is the other way around. Perhaps your teen is using drugs because he or she is sleep deprived. While it may seem like a stretch, many teens start drinking or using drugs because they are not getting enough sleep. Recent studies have proven it, finding that the relationship between teen sleep deprivation and substance abuse is actually bi-directional, and an unbalanced sleep cycle increases the risk of early substance use.

A 2011 national study on adolescent substance abuse found that high school students who reported less than 8 hours of sleep each night were more likely than those who slept 8+ hours to be current users of alcohol (46% vs. 34%) and marijuana (23% vs. 17%), and lifetime users of illicit drugs (16% vs. 11%).

When teens do not get sufficient sleep, certain functions in their brains are impeded. Sleep deprived teens cannot properly control their impulses or regulate their experience of reward, thus putting them at greater risk for substance initiation and regular drug and alcohol use.

Research is now showing that teen sleep deprivation and drug use also carry a social dimension. According to WebMD, poor sleep patterns in teens are often shared among friend groups. If your son or daughter’s friend is getting less than 7 hours of good sleep a night, the chance that your teen will sleep less than 7 hours rises over 10 percent. If your teen’s friend smokes marijuana, the likelihood of your teen smoking pot more than doubles.  What’s more, if your teen’s friend sleeps less than 7 hours a night, your son or daughter is 4 percent more likely to use drugs like marijuana.

Social exploration, experimentation, pressures, and risk-taking behavior are more prominent than ever in adolescence—yet so is the ability to learn and to develop healthy habits. The developing adolescent brain is a vehicle of opportunity. The teenage years are a time that we, as parents and educators, should take advantage of when teaching our teens how to live positive, healthy lifestyles. Promoting and facilitating a healthy sleep regimen will not only lead to better academic performance for your growing teen but also prevent your son or daughter from dangerous drug abuse.

To ensure that your child stays on the sober path and gets enough sleep, try to:

  • Encourage a manageable class schedule – To ensure that your teen does not burn out or grow overwhelmed with classes and after-school activities, work together to create a sensible academic schedule.
  • Set a digital curfew – The blue light from your teen’s smartphone, computer or television screen is keeping your teen up at night. Set a cut-off time at least 2-3 hours before bed.
  • Maintain a routine – In adolescence, it’s important to establish a regular sleep schedule. Even late weekend nights can disrupt a teen’s biological clock. Encourage your teen to go to sleep and wake up at approximately the same time each day, seven days a week.
  • Get professional help – If your teen is using drugs and receiving poor sleep, it can severely impact his or her health. Find a professional young adult drug rehab program near you.

In essence, poor sleep in adolescence can lead poor consequences, from lack of impulse control to teen drug use to depression.  If your teen is not sleeping properly, he or she may be at risk for a number of health problems including substance abuse or addiction. Early intervention is crucial to your teen’s health. Call Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 to learn more.