Teen Sleep IssuesMany children do not get enough sleep: national polls show that 27 percent of school-aged children and 45 percent of adolescents do not sleep enough. Research has demonstrated a link between poor sleep and use of alcohol and illicit drugs among adolescents. A new study from Idaho State University contributes to the body of evidence documenting the connection between sleep and substance use. The researchers discovered that specific sleep difficulties and the number of hours of sleep can predict specific substance-related problems like binge drinking, drunk driving, and risky sexual behaviors.

The researchers investigated whether sleep difficulties and hours of sleep predicted substance-related problems in adolescents. They drew data the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which was comprised of three waves of data collection in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 6,500 male and female adolescents.

Sleep problems in the first wave of the study significantly predicted substance-related problems in subsequent waves. Sleep problems were linked with:

  • Alcohol-related interpersonal problems
  • Binge drinking
  • Getting drunk or high
  • Driving while under the influence
  • Participating in sexual situations, due to alcohol use, that one later regretted
  • Using illicit drugs

The study also revealed that around 10 percent of adolescents experience chronic insomnia and 30 percent experience occasional insomnia, rates comparable to those of adults.

Corresponding author Maria M. Wong, professor and director of experimental training in psychology, explained that parents can impact the sleep habits of older children, “Parents need to understand their children’s sleep schedule, patterns, and habits. If children have sleep difficulties or poor sleep hygiene, it is important for parents to talk to them and find out the factors that may be causing the problems.” Parents can talk to their children about the importance of sleep and help their children keep a consistent sleep schedule.

This research will be published in the February issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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