May 13, 2016 —

Every month, we keep you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at the results of a study involving sleep and poor decision-making among teens.

While a good night’s sleep is an integral aspect of a healthy lifestyle, many teenagers seem to deprioritize its importance. Hordes of high schoolers stay up well past midnight – all too often when they have to wake up before 8 a.m. for school. Ironically enough, teens’ insufficient sleep most likely keeps parents up at night, too, as sleep deprivation has previously been associated with “an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes, sports injuries, and occupational injuries.”  

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sought to build upon this evidence by analyzing the connection between sleep duration and injury-related risk behaviors among teens. To do so, the CDC analyzed data from 50,370 high school students who participated in the National Youth Risk Behavior Surveys in 2007, 2009, 2011, or 2013.

Reported sleep duration during an average school night was less than 4 hours for 6% of high school students. Other durations reported were as follows: 5 hours (11%), 6 hours (22%), 7 hours (30%), 8 hours (24%), 9 hours (6%) and more than 10 hours (2%). Those students who reported insufficient sleep (here defined as less than 7 hours per night) were found to be significantly more likely to take part in the following injury-related risk behaviors:

  • Infrequent bicycle helmet use,
  • Infrequent seatbelt use,
  • Riding with a driver who had been drinking,
  • Drinking and driving, and
  • Texting while driving.

According to the CDC, “unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for adolescents.” This study only builds upon the existing evidence signifying how worrisome a lack of sleep can be, and “suggests that sleep deprivation may play an important role in poor judgment and decision-making among adolescents,” said Janet Croft, one of the authors of this study.

While some teens naturally need more sleep than their friends, The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adolescents sleep eight to ten hours per night. One of the best ways to ensure adequate sleep is by practicing habits that promote quality sleep, like going to bed and waking up at the same time every day of the week, or minimizing screen time or light exposure in the evenings. Parents can help by suggesting bedtimes that will allow teens to get at least 7 hours of sleep and limiting when and where teens can use their electronic devices. Most importantly, however, parents must act as model examples for their children by showcasing that sleep is an essential pillar of health.

Do you have any tips for encouraging your teen to get a healthy night’s sleep? Please feel free to share them in the comments below!