Sleep-Deprived Teens Are Up To 3 Times More Likely To Drive Drunk

Teens who slept fewer than 4 hours a night were three times as likely to drive drunk.
Students who slept six hours a night were twice as likely to report drinking and driving as their peers who slept nine hours -- and students who slept four hours or less were three times as likely to report drinking and driving.
Students who slept six hours a night were twice as likely to report drinking and driving as their peers who slept nine hours -- and students who slept four hours or less were three times as likely to report drinking and driving.

When teens don't get enough sleep, they are at higher risk for accidents -- from car crashes to sports injuries to injuries at work. Now, a new federal report may help explain why: Teens who are short on sleep are more likely to partake in risky behaviors that can lead to injury and even death.

High school students who got six hours of sleep per night reported using seat belts less frequently and were twice as likely to drink and drive than students who slept nine hours a night. The rate of students who reported not wearing seat belts more than quadrupled for those who slept four hours or less. And among those who slept 4 hours or less per night, the drunk driving rate tripled that of the nine-hour group.

“Not getting enough sleep is about more than feeling sleepy. Sleep is important for health and safety”

- Anne G. Wheaton, CDC epidemiologist

“These results provide evidence that some of the increased risk associated with insufficient sleep might be due to engaging in injury-related risk behaviors,” the report’s lead author Anne G. Wheaton, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Population Health, told The Huffington Post.

She said that because the data was all collected in one survey, it is impossible to determine from the new research if or how much any of the shorter durations of sleep actually caused the risky behavior -- but that other research has suggested sleep deprivation does, in fact, cause the risky behavior.

“The strength of the association with infrequent seatbelt use and drinking and driving was surprising and disturbing,” she said.

Tens of thousands of students were asked to weigh in on several risky behaviors, including foregoing a bike helmet, not using a seatbelt, drunk driving and texting while driving. The likelihood that a student would report engaging in a risky behavior increased the less sleep he or she got.

For example, infrequent seatbelt use was reported by 5.5 percent of the students who slept nine hours a night. It increased to 9.3 percent of the students who reported sleeping six hours a night and 22.8 percent of the students who reported sleeping four hours or less. Drinking and driving was reported by 4.7 percent of the students who slept nine hours, compared to 10.1 percent of the students who slept six hours and 16.6 percent of the students who slept four hours or less.

More Than Two-Thirds Of Teens Don’t Get Enough Sleep

While the scope of this report focused on high school students, previous research has suggested that college students who don't get enough sleep are also more likely to drink and drive as well as partake in other risky behaviors like smoking, binge drinking and having sex under the influence.

But the new CDC report is the first its authors are aware of to link insufficient sleep with a higher risk of engaging in the behaviors that increase risk of injury in high school students, Wheaton said.

The CDC analyzed data provided by 50,370 high school students who participated in national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys in 2007, 2009, 2011 or 2013. Students answered questions about how many hours they slept on an average school night, as well as those about how frequently they participated in certain behaviors that may put them at a higher risk for an injury.

The findings showed approximately 69 percent of the students reported sleeping an average of seven hours or less per night. Meanwhile, the National Sleep Foundation recommends eight to 10 hours of sleep per night for teens between the ages of 14 and 17.

More than two-thirds of the high school students in the study reported sleeping seven hours or less a night.
More than two-thirds of the high school students in the study reported sleeping seven hours or less a night.

More Evidence For Later School Start Times

Everyone from students to high school faculty and administrators to parents has a role to play in encouraging good sleep habits, Wheaton said. Early school start times can be a major contributor to teens getting insufficient sleep, she added.

To that end, in 2014 the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that middle and high schools not start before 8:30 a.m. so that adolescents could get better sleep. Another CDC report that analyzed data from nearly 40,000 public schools across the country found that just 17.7 percent actually started at 8:30 a.m. or later for the 2011-2012 school year.

“Not getting enough sleep is about more than feeling sleepy. Sleep is important for health and safety,” Wheaton said. This is significant, she said, because unintentional injuries have been found to be the leading cause of death for everyone between one and 19 -- with motor vehicle traffic-related deaths at the top of the list.

Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at sarah.digiulio@huffingtonpost.com.

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