Study: Less sleep tied to risky behavior in teens

Ask any parent of a teenager and chances are, they will tell you they would like their kid to get more sleep.

But according to a recent study, not getting enough shut-eye is actually associated with an increased risk of unsafe behavior.

The study looked at data from a national survey of high school students over an eight-year period.

Researchers found that in comparison with students who slept eight or more hours per night, teens who slept less than six hours were more than twice as likely to report use of alcohol or drugs, or engage in fights.

"When any of us don’t get enough sleep, our brains don’t work as well," said Vanessa Jensen, Psy.D, of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, who did not take part in the study. "Teens who don’t get enough sleep are not making the choices, perhaps, that parents would like them to make and perhaps not even that they would like to make." 

Jensen said parents should not be afraid to raise the issue of sleep, especially when kids become high school-aged, and responsibilities such as part-time jobs and driving privileges come into play.

She said sometimes, teens need to have limits placed on electronics if they are keeping them from getting enough sleep.

It’s also important to educate them about how teens need more sleep than adults and that they are not going to be able to function well on five or six hours of sleep.

Jensen said it’s also important for parents to consider their own sleep habits.

If a parent stays up late at night and complains about not getting enough sleep, it will be harder for them to make the case for their teen to get more rest if they’re not doing so themselves.

For parents who suspect their teen is engaging in unsafe behaviors, Jensen recommends starting a two-way conversation.

"Just talk -- the most important thing, first, is talking; not lecturing, not trying to do the, 'I know best, I’m your father; I’m your mother;' but ask questions and make comments such as, 'You know, I’ve noticed lately that you’ve been coming home late; who are you hanging out with?'" said Jensen. 

Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA Pediatrics.