Is There a Connection Between Missing Sleep and Using Drugs?

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6 out of 10 middle schoolers don't get enough sleep. 7 out of 10 high schoolers don't get enough sleep.

Image by CDC

You probably know it’s important to get enough sleep. But you may be surprised to learn exactly how important it is.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says teens should get 8 to 10 hours of sleep a day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most teens get less than that.

Researchers are learning more all the time about how getting less sleep can affect teens’ health. In fact, a growing number of studies have shown a possible link between teens missing out on sleep and having a higher risk of using drugs.

More sleep, less risk

First, let’s look at some of the well-known risks. CDC notes that teens who get less sleep than they need are at higher risk for health problems like:

  • Obesity.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Mental health issues.
  • Injuries.

They’re more likely to have attention and behavior problems, too. Those can affect how well a teen does in school—and with life in general.

Drug-related risks

Researchers also studied data from CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (with nearly 68,000 surveys completed by high school students over a period of 8 years). The data showed that teens who reported getting 6 hours of sleep a night were about three times as likely to start using drugs as teens who got 8 or 9 hours of sleep a night. And the less sleep teens got, the greater that risk became.

Other studies have found similar results.

This doesn’t mean getting less sleep caused the drug use, but the link is there, and researchers are continuing to explore the connection.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has tips for getting a good night’s sleep. If you lose sleep because you’re worried or stressed, talk to an adult you trust. You’re doing yourself a huge favor by catching all the Z’s you need.

Learn more: You’re programming your brain—right now!

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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