Sleep deprivation makes teenagers and their friends more likely to do drugsAfter years of thinking drugs affect sleep, researchers suggest flipping the script. A new study shows the correlation between how a teenager’s lack of sleep may actually be the precursor to the gateway drug. Not only that, but also how one friend sleeps increases another teen’s likelihood to do drugs.

Leading the study, Sara C. Mednick, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the VA San Diego Healthcare System.

To conduct the study, 8,349 adolescents in grades 7 through 12 were observed by the UCSD Department of Political Science and Nicholas A. Christakis, Harvard Medical School.

Researcher mapped out the social network of each child and identified social clusters. Teens who slept less than seven hours a night were 19 percent more likely to do drugs than someone who was getting a full night’s rest. Their direct friends were as much as 29 percent more likely to adapt those poor sleeping patterns. The study suggests teens should get an average of 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep a night.

These clusters would the span four degrees of separation. This means that Jane would influence Steven, who would influence Sarah, who would influence Ken. The percentages dropped progressively as the network spanned out.

Social networks have long proven to play a large roll in a teenager’s life. But now, with this research sleep deprivation is being seen to have similar affects on a teen as would depression, peer pressure and weight gain.

A lack of sleep not only influences their friends, but also immediately begins to exhibits as signs of irritability in a teen already having to deal with getting up early in the morning to go to school. These classes, which interrupt a growing student’s need for sleep, is “one of the biggest adjustments affecting late adolescence,” the report sites.

To drive home the correlation between sleep deprivation and drug use, researchers placed a group of children in two sleep studies. In one study, teens slept for 10 hrs nightly for two weeks. Another time, the same teens slept 6.5 hours nightly for two week. When the students received less sleep, the report sites: “Parents and teens both reported that participants in the short sleep condition had many more behavioral, cognitive, and emotional problems.” Conduct problems are a factor in substance abuse later on in life.

To read the full report published by PLoS One click here.