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FIU Study: Sleep-Deprived Teens More Likely To Carry Handguns, Even To School

A new study from Florida International University found a link between teens sleeping four or fewer hours each night and their likelihood of carrying handguns.
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The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Sleep-deprived adolescents are more likely to carry handguns, even to school, according to new research from Florida International University.

FIU researchers found middle- and high-school students who sleep four or fewer hours a night were 40 percent more likely to report having carried a handgun than their peers sleeping eight or more hours, according to the study, published in a recent issue of the academic journal Sleep Health. Further, the students who got less sleep were 85 percent more likely to say they brought a handgun to school in the previous year.

That’s after adjusting for other demographic and social elements that could affect students’ sleep quantity or propensity to carry handguns, such as their neighborhood conditions, their relationships with their parents, whether they have been involved in gangs and whether they have been victims of bullying.

“We tried to account for as many factors as possible that we thought might explain away the correlation that we observed,” said FIU associate professor of criminology and criminal justice Ryan Meldrum, the study’s lead author. “So even after accounting for all of these things, we still saw that sleep had a relationship with handgun carrying.”

Ryan Meldrum is an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida International University. He is pictured here outside the WLRN studios in downtown Miami.
Credit Jessica Bakeman / WLRN
The Florida Channel
Ryan Meldrum is an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida International University. He is pictured here outside the WLRN studios in downtown Miami.

The study was based on responses from more than 42,000 students at public middle and high schools throughout the state. The data was collected by the Florida Department of Children and Families and the Department of Education.

Teenagers’ brains are still developing, so they already have less impulse control than adults. A lack of adequate sleep makes adolescents even more likely to engage in antisocial behavior like committing crimes, Meldrum said.

“Nightly sleep helps to replenish that daily capacity to think before we act, to consider the consequences of our behavior,” he said.

Meldrum said the findings could inform ongoing debates about gun policy and school schedules.

The Miami-Dade County School Board is currently considering pushing back school start times to no earlier than 8 a.m. The plan is based on research that demonstrates a shift in adolescents’ body clock around the onset of puberty. The biological changes makes teens naturally want to fall asleep later and wake up later, which is difficult to accommodate when school starts as early as 7:20 a.m.

“I think my research can add a new element: that delaying the start times not only has implications for academics, but also for behavior,” Meldrum said.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Jessica Bakeman reports on K-12 and higher education for WLRN, south Florida's NPR affiliate. While new to Miami and public radio, Jessica is a seasoned journalist who has covered education policymaking and politics in three state capitals: Jackson, Miss.; Albany, N.Y.; and, most recently, Tallahassee.