The Relationship Between Lack of Sleep And Drug Abuse

Humans, particularly children and teenagers, require lots of sleep. The amount ranges from 6 to 7 hours for adults to 8 and 9 hours for teenagers and children. Yet research shows that the average American is getting far less than the required amount of sleep, and a connection has been found between prescription drugs and inadequate sleep and behavioral issues, poor performance at work and school, obesity and drug abuse.

What The Findings Reveal

Individuals who routinely get less sleep than needed are more likely to use marijuana and cigarettes. They were also found to be more likely to involve themselves in risky behaviors. These findings have led researchers to take a closer look at the mechanisms within the brain that lead to higher drug abuse among such individuals.

It was discovered that sleep deprivation results in the disruption of regulating emotions. Furthermore, executive functions like inhibitory control also appear to be impaired. Detailed analysis of sleep deprived people show a much lower availability of the D2 dopamine receptors within their ventral striatum, which can significantly increase the likelihood of substance abuse, as using alcohol and drugs will create spikes of dopamine to compensate for the deficit resulting from a lack of sleep.

How Inadequate Sleep Influences The Brain

Due to the fact that inadequate sleep adversely affects dopamine receptors, this means that the misuse of stimulants combined with sleep impairment could become a dangerous cycle. The stimulants will disrupt sleep, and the lower amount of sleep will alter the brain in a manner that predisposes it to continued drug abuse and dependence. This dual interaction can also occur between other substances.

The mechanism which underlies this connection is not yet known to scientists, but continued research has shown that elementary school children who did not get the proper amount of sleep for long periods had a higher chance of using alcohol and drugs by the time they reached the 6th grade. While continual research will be needed, the connection between sleep and substance has been well established and documented.

Why Are People Getting Less Sleep?

Before drug addiction can be addressed, it is first important to understand the factors that are causing people to get less sleep than they need. Many experts believe there are a number of underlying causes, which range from school schedules which start too early in the morning to the higher usage of smartphones and computers, particularly at night. In past generations people didn’t have to deal with constant distractions, noise and electronic devices so proper sleep was easier to obtain.

Today everyone, especially parents, must make a concerted effort to ensure both they and their children are getting the right amount of sleep. Once children reach the high school or college level, if they are continuing to suffer from inadequate sleep they may begin abusing substances to keep themselves awake so they can perform their studies, but this will ultimately do more harm than good.