Want Your Teen to Avoid Risky Behaviors? Make Sure They Get Enough Sleep

New study: Less sleep tied to unsafe activities
Risky Behavior in Teens

If you’re a parent of a teenager, chances are you’d like your kid to get more sleep. (Still up at midnight or 1 a.m. sound all too familiar?) But according to a recent study, not getting enough shut-eye is actually associated with an increased risk of unsafe behavior.

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The study looked at data from a national survey of high school students over an eight-year period. Researchers found that in comparison with students who slept eight or more hours per night, teens who slept less than six hours were more than twice as likely to report use of alcohol or drugs, or engage in fights.

Why sleep deprivation affects teens so dramatically

“When any of us don’t get enough sleep, our brains don’t work as well,” says pediatric psychologist Vanessa Jensen, PsyD, who did not take part in the study. “Teens who don’t get enough sleep aren’t making the choices, perhaps, that parents would like them to make. And maybe not even the choices that they’d like to make.”

Parents shouldn’t be afraid to raise the issue of sleep, Dr. Jensen says — especially when kids become high school aged and responsibilities such as part-time jobs and driving privileges come into play.

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Limits on electronics might be needed

Binge-watching on Netflix? Sending silly snaps to their friends? Sometimes teens need to have limits placed on electronics if they are keeping them from getting enough sleep, Dr. Jensen says.

It’s also important to educate them about how teens need more sleep than adults. That means they’re not going to be able to function well on five or six hours of sleep.

Parents: Also examine your own sleep habits

Dr. Jensen points out that it’s also important for parents to consider their own sleep habits. If you stay up into the wee hours of the morning and complain about not getting enough sleep, it will obviously be harder for you to make the case for your teen to get more rest!

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What to do if you suspect your teen is at risk

Suspect that your teen is engaging in unsafe behaviors? Dr. Jensen recommends starting a two-way conversation.

“Just talk. The most important thing, first, is talking — not lecturing,” she suggests. “Try not to do the, ‘I know best. I’m your father. I’m your mother.’ Rather, ask questions and make comments such as, ‘You know, I’ve noticed lately that you’ve been coming home late. Who are you hanging out with?’”

Complete result of the study can be found in JAMA Pediatrics.

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