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Sleep-Deprived Teens More Likely to Do Drugs

Teen girl lying in bed looking sad.

Some parents like to lament the fact that their teenaged children stay up half the night and sleep very late on weekends or during the summer. But you know what’s worse than teens sleeping a lot? Teens not being able to sleep enough because they’re abusing drugs.

Many parents aren’t aware of the connection between a lack of sleep and addiction. Moreover, adolescents tend to be more sleep deprived than most other age groups. 

According to research published in the medical journal Pediatrics, 37 percent of eighth-, tenth-, and twelfth-graders surveyed in 2012 did not get at least seven hours of sleep at night, which marked a drop of nine percentage points from a 1991 survey. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teenagers get between eight and ten hours of sleep each night.

Lack of Sleep Correlates with Depression

One of the problems associated with a lack of sleep for teenagers is a heightened risk of depression. A recent study by University of Pittsburgh researchers found that when adolescents are deprived of sleep, they report more signs of depression. And when teens get depressed, it’s not uncommon for them to turn to drugs as a coping mechanism.

To make matters worse, most illicit drugs disrupt normal sleep patterns. Stimulants like cocaine or amphetamines not only keep teens awake after they’re ingested, but lingering trace amounts of these drugs can also cause insomnia and other sleep problems even weeks or months later. These problems are also common side effects of many prescription drugs. Even depressants (including alcohol) can interfere with “deep REM” sleep after their initial effects wear off.

Sleep Deprivation: Symptoms and Challenges

Some of the common symptoms of sleep deprivation caused by substance abuse include:

  • Difficulty falling and/or staying asleep
  • Sleep cycle disturbances
  • Sleep apnea
  • Substantial daytime fatigue

Sleep troubles can be especially challenging for addicts who are trying to get clean. Because the drugs they took haven’t completely left their bodies, they can struggle with sleep deprivation during their recovery. This, in turn, could cause or worsen symptoms of depression, which may increase the chances of a relapse.

Suggestions for Sleeping Soundly

Therefore, it is vital that parents of adolescent substance abusers take proactive steps to facilitate proper amounts of sleep for their children. A good first step is to simply move up their regular bedtime. A study published in 2010 in the journal Sleep found that teens whose bedtimes were 10 pm or earlier were significantly less likely to feel depressed or have suicidal thoughts than their peers with midnight bedtimes. 

Teenage boy with his head on his desk sleeping.

Other tips to help teens get better sleep include:

  • Making their bedroom dark, cool, and quiet
  • Prohibiting teens’ use of smartphones, tablet computers, and other digital devices on their bed (which should be used for sleeping only)
  • Turning off technological distractions like computers, music players, and TV screens at bedtime
  • Providing them with a soft, comfortable mattress
  • Using low-intensity red lightbulbs, noise machines, and other sleep-friendly aids in their bedroom
  • Encouraging exercise during the day
  • Helping them avoid working out, eating a large meal, or engaging in stressful activities right before bedtime
  • Assisting them in setting and keeping a bedtime routine that gets them to relax

Of course, teenagers who are abusing drugs should receive treatment from a physician, counselor, and/or teen rehab professional in order to properly combat their addiction. But taking extra steps to ensure healthy, uninterrupted sleep can definitely make your adolescent’s recovery process smoother while safeguarding them against depression caused by sleep deprivation.

If your adolescent son or daughter is struggling with addiction, contact us today.

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