Children and adolescents require more sleep than adults. Researchers have found striking links between insufficient sleep and a range of adverse outcomes in adolescents, including obesity, poor school performance, and behavioral problems including substance use. Adolescents need between 8.5 & 9.5 hours sleep per night.
The impact of lack of sleep on dopamine receptors suggests that stimulant misuse and impaired sleep could be a vicious cycle: Stimulants impair sleep, and reduced sleep produces changes in the brain that predispose to further drug use and addiction. Two-way interactions between reduced sleep and substance use are also possible with other substances.
Further research will be needed to shed more light on the links between sleep and substance use versus non-use. For example, the 10-year longitudinal Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, now underway at 20 research sites across the country, will gather data on teens’ sleep patterns as well as substance use and other behaviors and should be able to provide valuable insight into this issue.
From school start times that are too early to the nighttime use of computers and cell phones, today’s adolescents face many challenges to getting a good night’s sleep.
The clear links between lack of quality sleep and risk behaviors like substance use make this a crucial target for prevention efforts. Parents should be aware of how important it is for their teenage children to get a full night’s sleep every night, as a protective factor against substance use as well as other adverse impacts on their health and success.