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.

soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. Valentijn

    Maybe, one day, schools will recognize the science showing that teens have different sleep-wake cycles regardless of when you make them go to bed or wake up. And maybe they could then adjust school schedules to accommodate that biology.

    September 27, 2011 at 07:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • teresa


      October 17, 2011 at 22:36 | Report abuse |
    • skidude2000

      What is your problem. Plz stay on-topic.

      November 29, 2011 at 20:47 | Report abuse |
  2. Bobby

    I always thought it would be better to start High School a little latter around 9AM, to give these teens an xtra hr of sleep.. so maybe they would stay awake during classes.

    September 27, 2011 at 09:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kaitlin

      I honestly don't think it matters. I start school at 8:55 in the morning. and I'm always tired first hour. I don't think it matttersd. some people have early morning jobs, or practice, like me. in the mornings.

      October 5, 2011 at 20:48 | Report abuse |
  3. Richie

    CORRELATION, NOT CAUSATION! Just because a teen sleeps less, does not mean he will for sure engage in such activities. This was a survey among students, not an actual test . . . weak results at best

    September 27, 2011 at 09:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Andrew

      I agree with you Richie this does not seem to have a strong causal relationship. Could it also be that the reason these teens are getting less sleep because they are involved in more "risky" behavior? At best it seems to me that they have the relationship backwards here.

      September 27, 2011 at 14:28 | Report abuse |
  4. hayden

    As a teen myself i dont completly agree with this article because i'm able to juggle sports homework and a social life and still be able to sleep AND stay awake in classes and be able to make safe decisions.

    September 27, 2011 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cassie

      Yeah me too. i can juggle 3 sports a year, student leadership, a social life, have a job, manage to spend time with my family and make good decisions. I'm pretty sure that it just depends on the person and their situation.

      September 27, 2011 at 23:58 | Report abuse |
  5. jalyn

    people should get all the sleep they need black white what ever else colorthats how i feel about it im noyt trying to be funny but to me it dont matter what color you are

    September 27, 2011 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Kent in Dallas TX


    I am not trying hurt your feelings, but you really need to learn how to write better, with good spelling, capitalization, punctuation & grammar.

    For example, the pronoun for yourself is "I", not "i".

    English may not be your primary language, but you still need to learn more about it if you want to use it, for example, to post comments on English-language blogs.

    September 27, 2011 at 10:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bryan Faux

      This is the Internet.... relax a little

      September 28, 2011 at 15:30 | Report abuse |
  7. Jude

    Having been a teacher and having to "function" many years on too little sleep (from late night college papers to running a business and caring for family members) – when you do not get enough sleep, you do not perform at your best, you don't remember information, your decision ability is weak and your concentration is derailed. There is mounting evidence that teens are increasingly becoming sleep deprived but schools continue to start earlier & earlier. Which is more important – your son or daughter learning what is being taught during the day and staying healthy or having them cram in another hour of sports practice or music lessons?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Alexander Rogge

    The bigger problem with school-induced sleep deprivation is that teens and adults can experience a lack of memory retention, an inability to recall information, slurred or broken speech, blurred vision, mood swings, slow reaction times, bad judgement, and an increased susceptibility to illnesses. These are some of the very same symptoms that are too often linked falsely to made-up diseases like "attention deficit disorder" and other "learning disabilities" for which dangerous drugs and social segregation are suggested. The answer is to end the ritual of foisting many hours of busywork on students every night, eliminate the stress of "test prepping" throughout the year, and to rid ourselves of the educators that insist on slapping a label for a made-up disease onto every student who acts strangely.

    September 27, 2011 at 15:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Nora

    If they want us teens to get more sleep, stop giving us SO MUCH damn homework!!!

    September 27, 2011 at 23:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • emily


      August 21, 2012 at 23:55 | Report abuse |
  10. Britney

    This is just about the dumbest excuse I've heard in a long time. These schools are constantly being reviewed to see if the curriculum meets the standard. Teens are just becoming more and more bratty. I'm sure they can't balance their life because they're too busy going out and doing stupid things.

    September 29, 2011 at 22:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SkyEater

      lesson the reason that sounds like a excuse is not because he is bratty he is propyl because he is tired and the comet you made earler was rude and uncalled for. looks like you woke up on the wrong side of the bed : )

      November 15, 2016 at 22:20 | Report abuse |
  11. flarnkingsgargle

    this just in....young people like to stay up late, party and have a good time.

    October 1, 2011 at 05:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Thomas

    I'm a teenager myself(19), teens NEED to stay awake later to get things done or we are failing in school and life itself. Society seems to forget that our teenage years our crucial , our marks will determine the salary and pension that we will live off of for the rest of our life and classes are more an more competetive. If we fail , adults simply say that were brats and that were lazy , but they seem to forget that many of us who don't have well-off parents need to work 25-30 hours a week since filling up our 4 cylinder car (50$) makes up for 1/5th of our whole paycheck every week!

    How many hours does the average work day entail? 40 ? Were doing 25-30 hours AND juggling a full course load and we also have work to bring home with us. As I'm typing this , it's 12:30 am on Sunday and I've just come home from a 2 day rockclimbing trip for an intensive gym class , too bad I didn't have time to study. What's due for tomorrow? Half of a book I didn't start and a Personal Finance test. I MUST stay up until 4-5am or I'm failing this test. Why didn't I study prior to the trip? Well..I was working , completing other assignments , completing readings for a different class and studying for 2 tests.

    Trust me , teens of today are not lazy. If we would be , we wouldn't even make it the first year in college. It isn't common for me and my friends to not see our parents for 2-3 days in a row , since school starts from 8-4( depends on the schedule but this is usually the time) , right after most of us work until 10-11 and if we have an assignment due that we didn't finish during our breaks at school we must complete it past 11pm, or we are failing.

    October 3, 2011 at 00:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Sara12

    Just because teens don't get enough sleep doesn't mean that they are going to have more thoughts of committing suicide or doing risky behaviors such as drinking and smoking. I'm a teenager who stays up late doing school assignments and I don't want to kill myself or go get drunk on weekends because I'm tired.

    October 3, 2011 at 22:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Alexandria Jean

    Sleep Deprivation weakens the immune system and affects school performance. Teens sleeping habits are affected with before bedtime routines such as watching TV, surfing the net and playing computer games.

    October 4, 2011 at 06:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Asher Chriss

    Teens show slow school performance if they have insufficient sleep. Their attention is that focused and they felt less energetic in performing school activities.http://share-healthtipsandviews.blogspot.com/2011/08/effects-of-sleep-deprivation.html

    October 4, 2011 at 06:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. teresa


    October 17, 2011 at 22:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. momy roxcy

    Nice!!! It’s really very informative article, I really appreciate your thoughts. I obviously enjoying and I also bookmarked & will visit again in future updates.
    Momy Roxy
    "Sleep Store USA"

    October 28, 2011 at 00:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Jack Jim

    Sleep deprivation in kids now days is something that many teens are faced with. Some of the factors that I believe cause the teens to fall into terrible sleeping patterns are excessive amounts of homework, technology and habits. At least for me i get way to much homework and to many nights I find my self staying up till the wee hours of the morning. The pressure to perform in school drives me to stay up that late just so I can succeed. Staying up to do home work in the end effects you more because you are struggling to get through your days and it puts even more pressure on you to get things done. The advancement of technology is quite radical to me but its also causing problems because kids are almost addicted to their social networking sites, searching for music and all the other fun things there is out there. Kids stay up socializing watching movies or television shows making them more tired and less active leaving them there watching television or being attached some sort of technology. Sleep deprivation is no one else's fault except your own. You have to have self control and tell you’re self when its time you start to get ready for bed. Many college students and even high schoolers fall into habits of staying up all-night and sleeping there way through the day. it truly puts a toll on your body and eventually your body cant handle that and it starts to break down and you may start to get sick. Sleep deprivation is an ever-growing problem that can be stopped by us the people.

    December 13, 2011 at 19:47 | Report abuse | Reply
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