Lack of Sleep for Teens Linked to Risky Behavior

Study Shows Sleep-Deprived Teens More Likely to Drink, Smoke, or Get Into Fights

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on September 27, 2011

Sept. 27, 2011 -- Teenagers who don't get enough sleep on school nights may be more likely to take risks with their health.

A new CDC study shows high school students who sleep less than eight hours on school nights are more likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, seriously consider suicide, and engage in a variety of other risky behaviors.

The study showed that more than two-thirds of high school students did not get at least eight hours of sleep on school nights. Students who did not get enough sleep were more likely to engage in at least 10 different risky behaviors than students who got enough sleep.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep for children aged 10 to17.

Researchers say it's the first large-scale study to link lack of sleep to risky behavior. They say chronic lack of sleep may decrease teens' ability to comprehend the consequences of risky behavior and increase their susceptibility to peer pressure.

In the study, researchers surveyed 12,154 high school students as part of the 2007 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The students were asked: "On an average school night, how many hours of sleep do you get?"

Eight or more hours of sleep was considered sufficient sleep and less than eight hours was considered insufficient.

Lack of Sleep and Risky Behavior

The results showed 68.9% of high school students reported insufficient sleep. Students who did not get enough sleep were more likely to engage in 10 different risky health behaviors.

For example, teens who reported not getting enough sleep were:

  • 86% more likely to have seriously considered attempting suicide.   
  • 67% more likely to smoke cigarettes.
  • 64% more likely to drink alcohol.
  • 62% more likely to feel sad or hopeless.
  • 52% more likely to use marijuana.
  • 41% more likely to be sexually active.
  • 40% more likely to be in a physical fight one or more times.         

Teens who didn't get enough sleep were also more likely to drink soda, be physically inactive, and use a computer for three or more hours per day.

"Many adolescents are not getting the recommended hours of sleep they need on school nights," researcher Lela McKnight-Eily, PhD, of the CDC's Division of Adult and Community Health, says in a news release. "Public health intervention is greatly needed," she says, adding that delayed school start times may help remedy the problem.

Show Sources


McKnight-Elly, L. Preventive Medicine, Sept. 26, 2001; online edition.

News release, CDC.

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