Skipping Sleep May Set Teens up for Substance Problems

Lack of sleep in teens tied to later problems with binge drinking and alcoholism

Teens who skimp on sleep might be setting themselves up for more than just bad grades. They may be more at risk for alcohol dependency in their adult years.

A recent study found that teens who didn't get enough sleep often ended up struggling with alcohol and drugs in their adult years. Researchers have long suspected a link between a lack of sleep and alcoholism, but this study suggests that not getting enough sleep can actually be a warning sign that teens will struggle with alcohol in their later years if intervention isn't taken to help them get enough rest.

“If we can make sure they have enough sleep, we can help them make good choices,” said lead study author Dr. Maria M. Wong, a psychologist at Idaho State University, in an interview with NPR.

Not getting enough sleep isn't the only sign a teen will get him or herself into trouble. Genetics and friends may also play a strong role, but parents can't often change either of those factors, Dr. Wong told NPR. However, they can help change teens’ sleeping habits.

Not only did teens who didn't sleep well have trouble with drinking, they were also found to have issues with friendships and relationships due to their alcohol use, were more likely to drive under the influence and were more likely to use illegal drugs, Dr. Wong and team found.

National polls indicate that 27 percent of school-age children and 45 percent of adolescents do not get enough sleep, according to this study. Dr. Wong and team suggested educating teens about the long-term effects of sleep deprivation.

This study was published Jan. 16 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.