Sleep deprivation can drive some teenagers to drinking alcohol and taking drugs, according to a new study from Idaho State University. Lack of sleep can also be a factor leading some youth to seek out risky behavior, the report concludes.

Teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16 who reported trouble sleeping were found to be 50 percent more likely than others in their age group to binge drink. These sleep-deprived teens were also more likely than their peers to drive under the influence of alcohol.

The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health was studied to collect data on over 6,000 teenagers. This included cases of insomnia and other sleep disorders, as well as those who just did not sleep for the recommended length of time.

Researchers organized data into three waves, including records from 1994 to 1995, 1996, and 2001 to 2002. Investigators on the study studied reports of sleep deprivation in earlier waves, and compared it with behavior in later periods.

"Sleep difficulties at the first wave significantly predicted alcohol-related interpersonal problems, binge drinking, getting drunk on alcohol, driving under the influence of alcohol, getting into sexual situations one later regretted due to drinking, and using illicit drugs and drug-related problems at the second wave," Maria Wong of Idaho State University said.

Investigators found sleep deprivation is common among teenagers, as Wong concluded 45 percent of adolescents, as well as 27 percent of children, do not get enough sleep. About 10 percent of youth in the study reported having trouble falling asleep nearly every night during the year prior to the study.

Adults who suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders have also been shown to be more likely to suffer from alcohol abuse one year after sleep deprivation.  

Wong stated her belief that parents can assist teenagers in healthy sleep patterns by talking to them about the importance of getting enough sleep. She also suggests a prohibition against texting and playing video games after a certain time of night, in order to encourage longer periods of sleep. Wong is a professor and director of experimental training in the university's department of psychology, and corresponding author for the study.

"This paper is important in that it advances our understanding of the relation of sleep to substance use problems to include not only problems sleeping, that is, trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep, but also insufficient sleep, addressed here as hours of sleep," Tim Roehrs, director of research at the Sleep Disorders and Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, stated in a university press release.

Prospective Relationship Between Poor Sleep and Substance-Related Problems in a National Sample of Adolescents, outlining the study relating adolescent sleep deprivation and future behavior, was published in the online journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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