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Sleep-deprived teens take more risks
September 27th, 2011
07:19 AM ET

Sleep-deprived teens take more risks

It’s not uncommon for teens to stay up late – finishing school assignments, talking or emailing with friends, being involved in social activities, or working a job.

A study published in Preventive Medicine reveals that more than two-thirds of U.S. teens report they’re getting less than eight hours sleep on school nights, and researchers say that lack of sufficient sleep is associated with risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, being sexually active, using marijuana, lower physical activity, and feeling sad or helpless.

“Insufficient sleep on school nights is common and is associated with participation in health risk behaviors including substance use, fighting, and consideration of suicide,” according to lead author Lela R. McKnight-Eily of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who explained that while previous research revealed the large sleep deficit experienced by many teens, this is the first large-scale national research to associate a variety sleep behaviors among teens with health risk behaviors using Youth Risk Behavior Survey data. Other studies have made this link with some of the risk behaviors studied, but generally much smaller or non-national samples.

The authors analyzed data from the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which gathered information from U.S. teens in grades 9-12 from all states and the District of Columbia. The survey is administered in both public and private schools every two years. This study included data from over 12,000 teen respondents who, for the first time, were asked questions about their sleep habits and duration.

Insufficient sleep was defined as less than eight hours of sleep. Students were asked “on an average school night, how many hours of sleep do you get?” Responses were divided into eight or more hours per night (sufficient sleep) or less than eight hours of sleep (insufficient sleep).

The researchers compared answers about sleep with answers about 11 health risk behaviors including drinking sodas with sugar, time spent exercising per week, TV watching time and non-school related computer use, cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use, being currently sexually active, feeling sad or hopeless, fighting, and whether they had considered suicide during the past year.

Less than eight hours of sleep was associated with 10 out of 11 health risk behaviors. TV watching was the health risk behavior that didn’t have an association with insufficient sleep, although boys with insufficient sleep were more likely to watch more than three hours of TV. The same didn’t apply to females.

Two of the health risk behaviors varied by race and ethnicity: Among Hispanic and white students who reported insufficient sleep, their odds were higher for feeling sad or hopeless. The same association wasn’t seen among black teens. Black and Hispanic teens who reported insufficient sleep also had an associated lack of physical activity of at least 60 minutes on five of the previous seven days. The same association was not found with white students.

CNNHealth sleep expert Dr. Lisa Shives said the findings of the study add to body of knowledge of how sleep deprivation affects us. “Most people know that if they’re sleep deprived, they can’t make good decisions," Shives said. "Chronic, partial sleep deprivation affects our ability to think straight, make good decisions, and impacts our behavior.” For teens, who require nine to nine and a half hours of sleep per night, having fewer than eight hours sleep can have a large impact on how they function, she added.

“Even though it’s hard, parents can try to set consistent bed times for their teens,” McKnight-Ely suggested, in an effort to encourage teens to put in more sleep time. She also suggests that parents consult a health professional if they feel that insufficient sleep is affecting their teen’s behavior.

For more information see the CDC sleep site.


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