Sleep deprivation increases the risk of reckless sexual behavior among teens
According to a new study published by the American Psychological Association, sleep deprivation increases the likelihood that teenagers will engage in risky sexual behavior, such as having intercourse under the influence of drugs and alcohol or having sex without condoms.
Study lead author Dr. Wendy M. Troxel is a senior behavioral and social scientist at the RAND Corporation, which is a nonprofit research institution.
“Teens by and large are not getting the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep a night, due to a number of reasons, including biological changes in circadian rhythms, early school start times, balancing school and extracurricular activities and peer social pressures,” said Dr. Troxel.
“Insufficient sleep may increase the potential for sexual risk-taking by compromising decision-making and influencing impulsivity.”
The research team analyzed data from a long-term study of 1,850 adolescents and young adults in Southern California. Each year from 2013 to 2017, the teenagers reported their sleep schedules on weekdays and weekends and described any sleep issues in the four weeks leading up to the survey.
The participants were also asked to report on any alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs used right before or during sexual activity and whether they used condoms. The teens were divided into groups based on their sleep patterns, including weekday sleep duration, weekend sleep duration, and sleep quality.
The researchers found that adolescents who were chronically sleep deprived were almost two times more likely to engage in unsafe sex than those who slept in an average of 3.5 hours on weekends.
“Teens who were short weekday and short weekend sleepers were not getting adequate sleep during the school week and were not catching up on sleep on the weekends, and thus were chronically sleep-deprived,” said Dr. Troxel.
“On one hand, we should encourage sleep routines for teens because regularity is important for maintaining healthy sleep and circadian rhythms. However, for most U.S. teens, whose weekday sleep opportunities are constrained due to early school start times, maintaining consistency in sleep-wake schedules throughout the week may not only be unrealistic, but also may be unhealthy, if it perpetuates a pattern of chronic sleep deprivation.”
“Our recommendation is for parents and teens to find a middle ground, which allows for some weekend catch-up sleep, while maintaining some level of consistency in sleep-wake patterns. We also need to encourage school districts to consider delaying school start times because this could make a substantial difference in helping teens get adequate sleep.”
The study is published in the journal Health Psychology.
Image Credit: Shutterstock