Sleep plays a complex role in the lives of adolescents, and the right amount of rest is an important part of overall health for any person. The amount and quality of sleep that someone gets can impact their mental, emotional and physical health, according to studies published by the National Institutes on Health.
Parents probably already know that lack of sleep can impact a teen's performance at school or make kids moody, but prolonged problems with sleep quality can put your child at increased risk for addiction, substance abuse disorder or mental health problems. At the same time, inadequate or inappropriate amounts of sleep can be a symptom of a mental health issue or addiction.
What are the benefits of adequate sleep?
Sleep is a rejuvenation period for the body. While we slumber, our body takes time to heal itself, energize itself and deal with the mental and emotional aspects of the day. Without sleep, we don't just run out of energy: our brain never has a time to unpack thoughts and feelings in the right way, which can increase anxiety or lead to cognitive impairment. Some other benefits of the right amount of quality sleep nightly include:
- Better performance at school or work
- Ability to move and operate items with increased safety
- More appropriate metabolism, particularly of sugar, to reduce the chance of diabetes
- Increased ability to fight off infection
What issues can be related to a lack of quality sleep?
Getting too little sleep can cause a bevy of short- and long-term problems, particularly for teens. In the short term, a lack of sleep reduces concentration, can impact the safety of a teen driver and leaves the teen less able to navigate the already stressful maze of adolescent social life. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion notes that extended bouts of poor quality sleep or insomnia can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
Is lack of sleep really a problem for teens?
According to the NIoH, as many as 40 percent of teenagers say they are too tired during the day. Some of those problems can be explained by medical issues, but the vast majority of teenagers who are falling asleep in class or complaining of fatigue simply aren't getting the right amount of quality sleep (which is 9 to 10 hours a night for most adolescents).
That might sound like a lot. Most adults don't need that much sleep, and even younger children do well without it. But consider all the things going on in the mind and body of your teen: extreme growth, changing hormones and a macrocosm of intellectual and emotional maturing. A lot happens in the few years of adolescence, and sleep is one of the ways the body keeps up.
Teen sleep is often inhibited by:
- Busy schedules
- Homework, studying and school involvement
- Device use
How is teen sleep quality tied to substance abuse or mental health issues?
Multiple studies from various researchers, universities and government agencies have tied lack of quality sleep to a greater risk of alcohol or drug abuse in teens. Teens who don't get enough sleep on a prolonged basis are also more likely to experience mental health issues, though it's not always obvious whether the problems associated with addiction or mental health issues are what caused the lack of sleep or vice versa. Either way, though, sleep issues have been called a "significant predictor" of issues such as:
- Teen alcohol and drug use
- Teen DUI
- Teen deviant behavior
What sleeps signs should parents look for?
Using results from Monitoring the Future studies, a team of doctors and social workers looked at how lack of sleep impacted drug and alcohol use. The conclusion was that as teens got more nights with seven or more hours of sleep, their risk for using drugs or alcohol dropped. A single night or two of little sleep isn't likely to drive teens to substance use or cause mental health issues, and it's normal for teenagers to stay up late during the weekend or ring in the morning with friends on special occasions. However, parents should ensure that teenagers are getting enough sleep on weekdays and look for patterns of poor or little sleep.
If you don't think your teen is getting enough sleep, look for viable ways to help them. Can you help them manage their schedule or homework load better? Are they simply not aware of the importance of sleep? In some cases, you might need to make rules about leaving devices outside of the bedroom after a certain time of night.
If you believe that sleep issues are a sign of substance abuse or mental health issues for your teen, then reach out for help as soon as possible. It's never too early to call someone about possible teen drug or alcohol abuse; the counselors at The Teen Treatment Center can help you understand what options you might have for seeking treatment or further information.