Teen sleep deprivation is being directly connected to teenage drug abuse and teen substance use in several resonant studies. As the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow has highlighted these studies and the dangers of teen sleep deprivation in Nora’s Blog. Instituted by Dr. Volkow, Nora’s Blog provides the Director of NIDA with the ability to comment on substance abuse patterns, including the recent teenage sleep deprivation statistics.

Dr. Nora Volkow on Teen Sleep Deprivation

In a 2017 blog entitled, “The Concerning Link Between Inadequate Sleep and Adolescent Substance Use,” Dr. Nora Volkow illuminates the problem when she explains how “shorter sleep duration correlates with higher incidence in several risky behaviors. For example, students who reported getting 6 hours of sleep per night were three times as likely to have initiated drug use than those who got 8 or 9 hours of sleep per night. Given this striking correlation, it is important to study the neurobiological mechanisms that link insufficient sleep and substance use.”

In another study at the Stanford Medical School in 2015, the research reveals that sleep deprivation and other sleep disorders among adolescents are a major risk factor for suicidal thoughts and death by suicide. Examining the results of the study, Dr. Shashank Joshi, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, points out that, “Sleep, especially deep sleep, is like a balm for the brain. The better your sleep, the more clearly you can think while awake, and it may enable you to seek help when a problem arises.”

Dr. Nora Volkow

Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse

“The impact of lack of sleep on dopamine receptors suggests that stimulant misuse and impaired sleep could be a vicious cycle.”

The Epidemic of Teen Sleep Deprivation

Indeed, the researchers at Stanford believe that teen sleep deprivation has spiraled into a dangerous epidemic. Although such a description seems extreme, the dangers of sleep deprivation and drug abuse are real. Indeed, when the effects of substance abuse lead to sleep deprivation, the adverse outcomes can be devastating to teens and their families. Hence, Dr. Nora Volkow agrees with the conclusions of the Stanford team.

Examining the science, Dr. Nora Volkow shows how both sleep deprivation and drug abuse lead to brain impairment. Since teens already are characterized by immaturity and impulsivity, any damage to the prefrontal regions of the brain results in a loss of self-control and other executive functions. Not only do teenagers stop maturing emotionally when sleep deprivation and drug abuse are combined, they also take a step backward from whatever emotional progress they have made toward maturity. Thus, Dr. Nora Volkow describes a double-edged sword that cuts both ways and does only more damage.

Dangers of Teen Sleep Deprivation and Drug Abuse

Indeed, Dr. Nora Volkow highlights this double-edged sword of teen sleep deprivation and drug abuse when she writes, “The impact of lack of sleep on dopamine receptors suggests that stimulant misuse and impaired sleep could be a vicious cycle: stimulants impair sleep, and reduced sleep produces changes in the brain that predispose to further drug use and addiction.”

Going deeper into another problem, Dr. Volkow highlights another study that published a paper with the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The title of the paper that reports on an important research study is “Longitudinal Bi-directional Relationships Between Sleep and Youth Substance Use” The study highlights the deep connection between sleep deprivation and drug abuse.

In the published paper, the researchers write, “Sleep patterns and duration also predicted adolescents’ cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use. Sleep, both patterns and duration, and substance use among youth are intertwined.” Given the intertwined nature of sleep deprivation and substance abuse, parents and guardians of teens need to look out for the signs of teenage sleep deprivation.

Signs of Teen Sleep Deprivation

Signs of teen sleep deprivation are similar to symptoms of adult sleep deprivation. However, the signs also can reflect other problems beyond drug abuse like anxiety and fear. Nevertheless, if you see persistent signs of sleep deprivation, inquiries should be made.

Several of the signs of sleep deprivation include —

  1. Exhaustion or persistent fatigue
  2. Falling asleep in class or during the day
  3. A marked inability to wake-up in the morning
  4. Dark circles under their eyes
  5. Clumsiness and slowed reflexes
  6. Poor decision-making and reduced concentration
  7. Drowsy-driving incidents and accidents

A Parental Prompt from Dr. Nora Volkow

Given the dangers, the problem of teenage sleep deprivation needs to be addressed before a drowsy-driving accident risks the health and even life of a teenager and others involved. Beyond such risks, sleep deprivation is a threat to young people that needs to be resolved.

Indeed, as Dr. Nora Volkow concludes, “Parents should be aware of how important it is for their teenage children to get a full night’s sleep every night, as a protective factor against the effects of substance use as well as other adverse impacts on their health and success.”