In elementary school your biggest worry might be that the kids are having trouble remembering their homework, or paying attention in class. In just a few years, though, they will be at Masconomet and you’ll be worried about things like depression, suicide, sexual activity, and alcohol and drug use… Are increased drug use and poor sleep really connected? Yes, they are! Insufficient sleep reduces metabolic activity in the pre-frontal region of the brain, which is the part of the brain that controls impulses and thinks about consequences. Teens already have an under-developed pre-frontal cortex. Add in the fact that chronic insufficient sleep is associated with increased depression and anxiety – which can lead to “self-medicating” – then we create a perfect storm of risk factors. If we are concerned about teen drug use let’s look at the low-hanging fruit on the tree of drug prevention: later school start times. Later school start times for teens results in more sleep since teens are wired to sleep until 8am, not wake at 5 and 6am.
Researcher mapped out the social network of each child and identified social clusters. Teens who slept less than seven hours a night were 19 percent more likely to do drugs than someone who was getting a full night’s rest. Their direct friends were as much as 29 percent more likely to adapt those poor sleeping patterns. The study suggests teens should get an average of 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep a night.
To drive home the correlation between sleep deprivation and drug use, researchers placed a group of children in two sleep studies. In one study, teens slept for 10 hrs nightly for two weeks. Another time, the same teens slept 6.5 hours nightly for two weeks. When the students received less sleep, the report sites: “Parents and teens both reported that participants in the short sleep condition had many more behavioral, cognitive, and emotional problems.” Conduct problems are a factor in substance abuse later on in life.