7 Serious Dangers Sleep-Deprived Teens Face

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Most teens aren’t getting the 9 ¼ hours of sleep recommended by doctors. According to the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, only 31% of high school students reported getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Late evening sporting events, long hours of homework, and part-time jobs can interfere with a good night’s sleep. For other teens, video games, social media, and web surfing prevent them from going to sleep at a reasonable hour.

The main factor that contributes to teens being night owls may be biological, however. Puberty tends to program teens to stay up later. Changes in hormones mean that many of them aren’t ready to go to sleep until at least 11 p.m. As a result, many of them aren’t able to squeeze in enough sleep before the alarm goes off for school each morning.

Chronic sleep deprivation can have serious consequence. For many teens, the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation creep up on them slowly over time. Here are the biggest risks sleep deprived teens face:

1. Increased Risk of Traffic Accidents

Over 100,000 car accidents occur each year when drivers falling asleep at the wheel and fatigue-related accidents are most common in drivers under the age of 25. In addition to the risk of falling asleep while driving, chronically sleep deprived teens may be inattentive and have slower reaction times which can increase their chances of being in an accident.

Driving while tired is one of the 12 biggest dangers to teen drivers

2. Physical Health Problems

Sleep deprivation can interfere with a teen’s development and overall physical health. Teens who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to complain about health problems, like stomachaches, headaches, and back pain.

Teens who aren’t getting enough sleep are also at a higher risk of high blood pressure.

3. Impaired Memory and Learning

Students who receive below average grades are likely to get 25 minutes less sleep and go to sleep 40 minutes later than students who receive above average grades. Teens who aren’t getting enough sleep are more likely to fall asleep during class and they’re likely to experience difficulty concentrating and paying attention. Sleep deprivation can lead to memory impairments that interfere with their education and overall academic achievement.

4. Greater Risk of Obesity

Many research studies have linked obesity to sleep deprivation in children and adults. A lack of sleep can disrupt the balance of hormones that control appetite. Sleep deprivation can also decrease motivation and energy, which reduces a teen’s motivation to exercise.

5. Low Life Satisfaction

Teens who aren’t getting enough sleep are more likely to report less satisfaction with their lives. They may have less energy to participate in leisure activities and they may experience mood swings and irritability that interfere with their relationships.

6. Increased Mental Health Problems

Sleep deprivation places teens at an increased risk of major depression. Depression tends to interfere with sleep which can set teens up for a perpetuating cycle. A lack of sleep has also been associated with higher incidents of suicidal ideation, difficulty managing anger, higher rates of anxiety.

Read More: 4 Types of Depression Commonly Found in Teens

7. Higher Rates of Substance Abuse

A lack of adequate sleep can cloud a teen’s judgment and increase the chances that a teen will abuse drugs or alcohol. It can also lead to other behavior problems and impulse control issues.

Read More: Should High Schools Start Later? The Pros and Cons of Later School Start Times

9 Ways to Encourage Your Teen to Get a Good Night’s Sleep


Dahl, R.E. & Lewin, D.S. Pathways to adolescent health sleep regulation and behavior. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2002; 31:175–84.

Millman, R.P. Working Group on Sleepiness in Adolescents/Young Adults, AAP Committee on Adolescence. Excessive sleepiness in adolescents and young adults: causes, consequences, and treatment strategies. Pediatrics. 2005;115:1774–86.

Roberts RE; Duong HT. The prospective association between sleep deprivation and depression among adolescents. SLEEP. 2014;37(2):239-244.

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