You have seen the stereotype of the “sleepy teen” that is depicted in movies and television shows. It might be good for a laugh or two, but the truth is that sleep or lack thereof is a serious issue. In fact, studies now show that when teens lose sleep, it could be a sign of depression or lead to substance abuse.
How Sleep Affects Your Teen
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is a vital part of your teenager’s development and growth. It is as important as the food they eat and the water they drink. This is why it is troubling that teens do not seem to get enough sleep, with just an estimated 15 percent getting the required 8.5 hours on a school night. Not only do teens lack regular sleep patterns, but many also suffer from sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and insomnia.
Studies are now showing that when a person does not get enough sleep, there is a reduction in the availability of dopamine D2 receptors in the ventral striatum, which is part of the brain’s reward circuit. When this occurs, a person becomes more susceptible to risky behaviors to compensate for this deficit.
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The Link Between Lack of Sleep and Teen Drug Abuse
Researchers have now found disturbing links between a teenager’s lack of sleep and a variety of adverse outcomes such as depression, obesity, poor academic performance, behavioral problems, and substance abuse. One study of Fairfax County middle and high school students found that teens who reported getting just six hours of sleep each night were three times more likely to initiate drug use than students who got eight hours or more sleep per night.
When teens turn to substances due to lack of sleep or depression, it creates a vicious cycle. For example, the use of stimulant drugs will impair sleep and also create changes in the brain that call for even more drug use and eventually addiction. This occurs with more than just stimulant drugs. A Minnesota study showed that there is an opposing relationship between increased cigarette smoking and oversleeping on the weekends to make up for missed weekday sleep. The same study shows a relationship between greater marijuana use and a lack of overall sleep.
Getting Help for Teen Drug Abuse
There are clear links between a lack of quality sleep and risky behaviors like teen drug abuse. If your teen is abusing alcohol or drugs, help is available. Hoping that your teen will simply grow out of it is not the answer. Once addiction becomes an issue, parents need to take action immediately.