06/13/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Social Networking, Sleep Deprivation, Drug Use and Teens

A few months ago, the media led with a headline that your friends can make you fat. As you can imagine, it caused quite a stir by showing the hidden impact our relationships can have on our behavior and lifestyle choices.

But can friends make us sleep deprived and more likely to abuse drugs?

Alarmingly, this finding was recently shown by researchers at UC San Diego and Harvard who studied social networks, sleep patterns and the spread of adolescent drug use. Their alarming conclusion: the use of social networks by adolescents influences sleep patterns, sleep deprivation and drug use.

I know this is not something a parent wants to hear, especially given the commanding role that social networking has over millions of people these days, including adults. There's no turning back time and returning to the era of pre-Internet, pre-email, pre-Facebook.

What's interesting about this latest study is that contrary to the general assumption that drug use leads to a negative effect on sleep, the scientists found that sleep loss is likely to lead adolescents to use drugs. Specifically:

  • The less adolescents sleep, the more likely their friends are to sleep poorly and use marijuana.
  • Poor sleep behavior and marijuana use extended up to four degrees of separation in a social network --to one's friends' friends' friends' friends.

And marijuana may be just the tip of the iceberg. Experimenting with a drug like this may lead to other drugs such as cocaine, heroine, or ecstasy--three of the most common drugs used today by adolescents.

So what's a parent to do? You can only police their social networking so much. But you can set boundaries for when your teens can use the internet and engage in other digital activities, including cell phone use. Three ideas:

  • Set a digital cut-off time, say 10:00 pm after which your kids cannot log online or use their cell phone.
  • Get into the game. Establish your own social networking account on the sites your child frequents and befriend them so you can stay in touch with their goings-on--and their friends.
  • Don't be naïve: Kids are savvy consumers of electronics and social media. But they aren't necessarily savvy consumers of quality sleep. Talk to them about their sleep habits and find out if they have trouble feeling refreshed in the morning. Don't assume that they take their bedtimes seriously.

The habits your kids establish are likely to be the habits they keep for a lifetime. Make getting a good night's sleep one of them, and maybe you'll get through those rough patches without too much heartache.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD

The Sleep Doctor™

This article on sleep and social networking is also available at Dr. Breus's blog, The Insomnia Blog: by Sleep Doctor Michael Breus, PhD.