Alcohol, Marijuana Use Predicts Sleep Problems in Teens

New findings from a team of American researchers link marijuana and alcohol consumption in teenagers to significant changes in the sleeping patterns necessary to support health and well-being.
drugs that cause sleep deprivation

For a number of reasons, teenagers need to get more sleep than adults in order to remain healthy and fully functional. Unfortunately, teens commonly fail to get the amount of sleep recommended by doctors and public health officials. In a study published in May 2015 in the journal Sleep Health, researchers from the RAND Corporation looked at the connection between teenagers’ sleeping patterns and the consumption of two widely used substances: marijuana and alcohol. These researchers concluded that teens who consume these substances predictably sleep less than their counterparts who don’t consume marijuana or alcohol.

Teenagers, Marijuana and Alcohol

About 24% of the nation’s eighth, 10th and 12th graders consume at least some marijuana over the course of a year, according to 2014 figures compiled by the University of Michigan and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As a rule, 12th graders consume the drug more often than 10th graders, and 10th graders consume the drug more often than eighth graders. Almost 6% of all 12th graders qualify as habitual marijuana consumers by using the drug at least two out of every three days. Overall figures for teen marijuana intake in general (and habitual intake in particular) rose fairly steadily in the U.S. between 2009 and 2013. However, figures for both general and habitual intake fell to a small extent between 2013 and 2014. Compared to their adult counterparts, marijuana-using teenagers have much higher risks for diagnosable abuse and/or addiction.

Roughly 41% of the nation’s eighth, 10th and 12th graders drink at least some alcohol over the course of a year. As with marijuana, the rate of consumption increases with age. Older teenagers also have higher chances of drinking to the point of drunkenness and participating in the rapid intoxication-producing practice known as binge drinking. In accordance with a long-term trend, rates of alcohol intake, drunkenness and binge drinking fell among both older and younger teenagers between 2013 and 2014. The number of alcohol-consuming adolescents in the U.S. fell by almost 33% between 1997 and 2014. Teenagers who start drinking before the age of 15 have drastically heightened risks for diagnosable alcohol problems.

Teenagers and Sleep

The typical teenager needs to get more than nine hours of sleep a night to feel fully rested and functional the following day. Despite this fact, the average teen only gets a little over seven hours of nightly sleep. Noted contributors to the lack of adequate sleep in adolescence include puberty-driven changes in the sleep cycle, the early start times common at high schools throughout the U.S., the social commitments and pressures that largely characterize teenage life and the time pressures produced by holding a job or participating in extracurricular school activities. Chronic sleep inadequacy in a teenager can lead to problems that include increased engagement in risky or impulsive behavior, decreased mental performance, decreased mood regulation, heightened exposure to accidental injury, declining school performance and diagnosable sleep-related illness.

Influence of Substance Use

In the study published in Sleep Health, the RAND Corporation researchers used an Internet-based survey of 2,539 teenagers in the Los Angeles area to estimate how marijuana and alcohol consumption affect teenagers’ sleeping patterns. Factors assessed in each participant included the overall amount of sleep, weekday bedtime, weekend bedtime, the presence of any significant sleeping problems and the amount of alcohol and marijuana consumed in the previous 30 days.

The researchers concluded that teenagers who consume marijuana and alcohol have substantially increased chances of getting less sleep in the following month. The specific connection between marijuana/alcohol use and sleep varies considerably among teens of different racial/ethnic backgrounds. However, the general finding applies to all teens. The researchers specifically linked the consumption of alcohol to an overall decline in sleep, as well as later sleeping times and sleeping problems. They also linked the consumption of both marijuana and alcohol to an overall decline in sleep and later sleeping times.

The study’s authors note that their findings apply even when all other possible influences on teenagers’ sleeping patterns (including basic social and demographic factors and the presence of significant mental health issues) are taken into account.

Posted on January 7th, 2017

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