Adolescents, substance abuse and sleep

Sleep is an essential food for the brain. It is as important as food and water to the human body but many people fail to get enough sleep because of several factors. Teens, in particular, suffer from sleep deprivation because of excessive use of electronic devices such as computer, tablets, and smartphones. Electronic activities such as computer games, Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging can significantly disrupt sleep. While it has been known that social networking may possibly lead to teen drug abuse(1), sleep loss may also contribute in developing problems like sleepiness, fatigue, and depression which can increase the risk of drug and alcohol use.

Screen Time and Sleep Deprivation

Today, teens use electronic devices for entertainment, school work, and social interaction, making screen time a major part of environmental influences that affects a teen’s developing brain. A latest study from a high school junior top winner of 2013 Addiction Science Award by the National Institute on Drug Abuse(2) shows that an average of 3.5 hours of screen time a day can more likely lead to sleep deprivation than with only 2 hours. This study has raised awareness on how screen time affects sleep, mood, behavior, academic performances and some other factors that may affect a modern teenage life.

BBC News reports that many teens spend longer hours using electronic devices(3) which harm their sleeping pattern. On average, girls spend roughly five and a half hours using computer, smartphone, or other devices while boys spend around six and a half hours in front of the screen. Playing computer game is more popular among boys whereas online chatting is for girls. This kind of excessive use of media devices can greatly affect the amount of sleep people get. The more hours they spend time on gadgets, the more delayed and shorter their sleep become.

How Screen Time Affects Sleep?

Pineal gland, an endocrine organ located at the center of the brain, produces a hormone called melatonin which helps regulate sleep and wake cycle. However, today’s modern life confuses its normal function. Because portable devices produce “blue light” – not actually blue but a short-wavelength light similar to day light – the pineal gland signals the brain that it’s daytime which then turns night into days. Moreover, because smartphones and tablets are used closer to the face than a TV which is 10 feet away, the effect is more amplified. Obviously, staying up late using electronic devices may cause sleep deprivation. Even if it may not cut regular bedtime it can keep someone from sleeping, resulting to lack of sleep.

Sleep Deprivation and Substance Abuse

On average, teens should get 8.5 to 9.2 hours of sleep a night but electronic activities keep them from getting the recommended sleep they need. As for parents with busy schedule, this condition is often overlooked without knowing that like any other contagious behavior – happiness, obesity, smoking and drug use – deprived sleep is strongly linked to unhealthful behaviors such as poor impulse control, fatigue, poor decision making, and depression which increases teen’s vulnerability. This can lead to several issues related to drinking and drug use, including DUI.

Bad sleeping patter can highly influence one’s behavior to the extent that it can spread from person to person to person. According to studies, if one teen sleeps less than seven hours a night, the chance that it may affect other teen’s sleeping pattern rises to 11%. If a teen sleeps less than four hours a night, the chance of smoking pot rises to 4%. Because sleep deprivation has unpleasant consequences which causes other to use drugs, teens who constantly chat each other over the phone or social media can more likely influence others to use as well.

Parents can help their children have a better future by maintaining a healthier lifestyle. It can start by monitoring their daily routine to make sure their mood and behavior are normal and their environment is stable and stress-free. This way, parents can easily determine if teens have been abusing drugs(4) or not.

Ways to Improve Sleep and Prevent the Risk of Substance Abuse

There are several ways to combat sleep disturbance. For most teenagers and young adults, electronic gadgets are often the cause of sleep disturbance. In that case, here are some appropriate ways that might help to improve sleeping habits and prevent the risk of developing substance abuse problem.

  • Reduce the brightness of handheld devices. The lower the brightness the lower blue light is produced, decreasing daytime effect.
  • Avoid using gadgets two hours before bed time. Not turning on any type of gadget will give your brain the proper rest needed before sleep.
  • Set a schedule in using gadgets. Find some other ways to wind down before bedtime other than playing video games or chatting.
  • Do not engage on any digital activities. Stay away from troubled people on the net as much as possible.
  • Arrange the room into its most comfortable form – quiet, dark, and cool. Make adjustment in your sleep environment if necessary.
  • Practice some relaxation and meditation techniques. These may help you fall asleep quickly.

References

National Institute on Drug Abuse: http://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2013/05/study-screen-time-mood-memory-cognition-wins-top-nih-addiction-science-award

Teens spend longer hours using electronic devices: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-31089014