Parents Guide to Teenagers and Sleep


What Are the Consequences for Teenagers?

Sleep deprivation puts teenagers into a kind of perpetual cloud or haze. That haze can negatively affect a teenager’s mood, as well as ability to think, react, regulate their emotions, learn and get along with adults. Half the teens one expert evaluated were so tired in the morning that they showed the same symptoms as patients with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder in which the patient nods off and falls directly into REM sleep. This can result in the following:

  • Increased risk of injury: According to a National Sleep Foundation Study, drowsiness or fatigue is the principal cause of at least 100,000 traffic accidents each year. One North Carolina state study found that 55 percent of all “fall-asleep” crashes were caused by drivers under the age of 25.
  • Inability to self-regulate: Along with a lack of sleep goes the ability to exercise self-control — over one’s emotions, impulses and mood. Lack of sleep has been linked to aggression, impulsiveness and being short-tempered. It can also produce some of the same symptoms as kids with ADHD, including an inability to sit still, to stay on task and to focus.
  • Substance use and risky behavior: Research shows that sleep-deprived teens are more likely to use stimulants like caffeine and nicotine to get through the day, but also to deal with negative moods by self-medicating with alcohol. They’re also more likely to engage in unprotected sex and reckless driving than teens who get upwards of seven hours of sleep a night.
  • Mood: Less sleep also correlates with higher levels of depression, and in turn, kids with depression had problems falling or staying asleep. Since many mental illnesses first show up in the teenage years, doctors worry that severe sleep deprivation can trigger a serious depression in kids who are already predisposed to it. And multiple studies have found that severe sleep debt is linked to suicidal ideation.