Is your high schooler sleep-deprived? Buckle up for bad news

Less sleep, more risk-taking. That's the pattern seen in a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Less sleep, more risk-taking. That’s the pattern seen in a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Texting behind the wheel. Drunk driving. Skimping on sleep. For teens, these are dangerous bedfellows.

New research finds that compared with high schoolers who typically get nine hours of sleep, those who get less shut-eye are more likely to drink and drive, text while driving, hop in a car driven by a driver who has consumed alcohol, and leave their seatbelts unbuckled.

But while dangerous behaviors escalated with less sleep, too much sleep also was linked to risk-taking in teens: Among those who routinely slept more than 10 hours per night, on average, researchers also noted higher rates of drinking and driving, infrequent seatbelt use, and riding with a driver who had consumed alcohol.

The National Sleep Foundation says that adolescents 14 to 17 years old should get eight to 10 hours of sleep per night. But a majority falls well short of that goal. Girls were less likely to get enough sleep than boys (71% versus 66.4%). And 75.7% of Asian students were most likely among the ethnicities surveyed to report insufficient sleep.

In a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers culled the survey responses of more than 50,000 teens in grades nine through 12 between 2007 and 2013. The teens were presented a range of risk-taking behaviors and asked whether they had engaged in any in the past 30 days. They were also asked about their average sleep duration and other health-related behaviors.


Among adolescents, two-thirds of all fatalities are related to traffic crashes. Sleepiness impairs a teen’s attention and reaction time behind the wheel, which is bad enough. But the authors of the new report suggest that chronic sleep shortage might also be linked to poor judgment or a “likelihood to disregard the negative consequences” of taking chances.

Compared with a teen getting the recommended nine hours of sleep nightly, a high schooler reporting six hours of sleep per night was 84% more likely to say he or she had driven after consuming alcohol in the past 30 days, 92% more likely to report infrequent seatbelt use in a car, and 42% more likely to acknowledge he or she had ridden in a car with a driver who consumed alcohol in the past month.

Teens who reported sleeping five hours or fewer per night were more than twice as likely as their well-rested peers to acknowledge drinking and driving and infrequent seatbelt use.

In the case of teens who sleep 10 hours or more per night, the researchers suggested that depression might be the best explanation for greater risk-taking.

Fewer than 30% of teens surveyed reported nightly sleep duration between eight and nine hours. Roughly 30% reported sleeping an average of seven hours nightly, with about 22% reporting six hours’ sleep nightly and 10.5% reporting five hours’. Only 1.8% of teens reported they slept 10 or more hours nightly.

Teens’ average propensities to engage in risky behavior were not reassuring: On average, 26% reported they had ridden in a car with a driver who had drunk alcohol at least once in the past 30 days; 30.3% reported they had texted while driving at least once in the past 30 days; 8.9% reported drinking and driving in the past 30 days, and 8.7% reported infrequent seatbelt use. Fully 86.1% reported they wore a bicycle helmet infrequently while riding a bike.

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