Adolescents who sleep fewer than 8 hours on school nights are more likely to engage in several risk-taking behaviors, according to research published in JAMA Pediatrics. However, teens who get fewer than 6 hours of sleep are at significantly higher risk for considering, planning and attempting suicide, researchers said.
“Youths in America are sleeping less than ever before. More than 70% of high school students average less than 8 hours of sleep, falling short of the 8 to 10 hours that adolescents need for optimal health,” Matthew D. Weaver, PhD, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and an associate epidemiologist in the division of sleep and circadian disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and colleagues wrote. “Insufficient sleep negatively affects learning and development and acutely alters judgment, particularly among youths.”
Data collected from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey between February 2007 and May 2015 demonstrated that of of the 67,615 students surveyed, 99.3% were aged 14 years or older. Slightly over one-quarter of the students were in ninth grade (27.2%), and 22.6% were in 12th grade.
Fewer than one-third of respondents reported 8 or more hours of sleep (30.4%) on school nights. Between 2007 and 2015, the number of teens getting fewer than 8 hours of sleep rose from 68.9% to 71.9%.
According to the researchers, teens who slept less were more likely to report risk-taking behaviors. Specifically, compared with teens who slept 8 or more hours on school nights, the researchers observed an increase in risk-taking behaviors, such as risky driving (OR = 1.19 [7 hours], 1.37 [6 hours], 1.75 [less than 6 hours]), alcohol use (OR = 1.28 [7 hours], 1.61 [6 hours], 2.01 [less than 6 hours]), tobacco use (OR = 1.13 [7 hours], 1.43 [6 hours], 1.94 [less than 6 hours]) and use of other drugs (OR = 1.17 [7 hours], 1.51 [6 hours], 2.34 [less than 6 hours]).
Additionally, the researchers observed an increased risk for sexual activity (OR = 1.12 [7 hours], 1.33 [6 hours], 1.65 [less than 6 hours]) and aggressive behaviors (OR = 1.06 [7 hours], 1.29 [6 hours], 1.91 [less than 6 hours]) when teens slept fewer than 8 hours.
Weaver and colleagues observed that when teens slept fewer than 8 hours, their risk for self-harm and mood concerns became significantly elevated (OR = 1.18 [7 hours], 1.77 [6 hours], 3.17 [less than 6 hours]).
Teens who slept less than 6 hours on a school night were more than three times as likely to consider suicide, plan suicide or attempt suicide when compared with teens who slept 8 hours or more. Furthermore, these teens were more than four times as likely to attempt suicide and require treatment.
“These data have important implications for the health and safety of high school students nationally,” Weaver and colleagues wrote. “We observed a significant burden of insufficient sleep and a consistent dose-dependent association between sleep duration and unsafe behaviors. Future efforts should seek to promote healthy sleep habits and remove barriers to sufficient sleep in this vulnerable population.” – by Katherine Bortz
Weaver reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.