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Research links extreme sleep deprivation to health and behavior problems in teens


Nationally, 17 percent of teenagers say they get less than six hours of sleep per night, which FIU researchers say can lead to serious health and behavioral problems.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends adolescents get eight hours of sleep per night, but Criminal Justice professor Ryan C. Meldrum says the real area of concern are those adolescents who achieve less than five hours of sleep on a regular basis.

“Studies typically examine the implications of getting anything less than eight hours of sleep at night. What I wanted to investigate was whether there might be differences in the consequences of sleep deprivation depending on the severity of such deprivations,” Meldrum said. “In other words, I wanted to know if getting six or seven hours of sleep at night really places teens at risk for problematic health and behavior outcomes, or whether the impact of sleep deprivation is confined to teens at the extreme who average less than six hours of sleep at night.”

iStock_000015712053In a recent study published in Preventive Medicine, Meldrum links extreme sleep deprivation to 12 outcomes ranging from obesity, substance use, drunk driving and even suicidal tendencies. For example, teenagers who say they get an average of five hours of sleep per night are 37 percent more likely to report engaging in fighting than those who get an average of eight or more hours of sleep. That percentage jumps to 137 percent for those who get less than five hours of sleep on average.

Likewise, teens who get five hours of sleep per night are 40 percent more likely to be obese than those who get eight or more hours of sleep, and that percentage jumps to 83 percent for those who get less than five hours of sleep. Yet, for these and many other outcomes analyzed in the study, Meldrum found that getting six or seven hours of sleep at night did not place teens at any greater risk for health and behavioral problems than those who get eight or more hours of sleep at night.

“What this means is that, at least for the outcomes investigated in this study, minor deprivations in sleep do not appear to be all that harmful during adolescence,” Meldrum said. “Rather, it is the much smaller portion of the teenage population that experiences more severe deprivations in sleep that parents, teachers, and practitioners need to be on the lookout for. Efforts to assist these teens in achieving just one more hour of sleep at night could significantly reduce their risk of poor health and bad behavior.”

A member of the American Society of Criminology and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, Meldrum focuses his research on juvenile delinquency, with particular attention given to peer associations and self-control during adolescence.