Adolescents and teenagers often have poor sleep habits. This results in both inadequate amounts of sleep and sleep that is poor quality. Sleep issues can affect their physical growth, as proven in repeated studies. But it also impacts depression and other aspects of mental health.
According to a new study out of the University of Reading, in conjunction with Goldsmiths and Flinders University, poor sleep in teens can also lead to mental health problems later in life, too. The study findings were published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
The researchers analyzed the sleep quality and quantity of 4,790 teenagers. The participants self-reported on how much they slept and how well. The principle finding was a significant relationship between poor sleep and mental health issues.
Those teens who suffered from depression reported both poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation. Those with anxiety reported poor quality of sleep, but adequate amounts of sleep. The self-reported measures were compared against a group of teens who reported neither anxiety nor depression.
Dr Faith Orchard, a Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of Reading said:
“This latest research is another piece of evidence to show that there is a significant link between sleep and mental health for teenagers. This study highlights that those young people who have experienced depression and anxiety had overwhelmingly experienced poor sleep during their teens.
“What’s noticeable is that the difference in average amount of sleep between those who experienced depression, which amounts to going to sleep 30 minutes later each night compared to other participants. Within the data, there were some participants who reported hugely worse quality and quantity of sleep, and the overall picture highlights that we need to take sleep much more into account when considering support for teenager wellbeing.”
The group reporting no mental health issues was also the group getting the most sleep, according to their self-reporting. The control group got an average of 8 hours of sleep on weeknights and 9 1/2 hours of sleep on weekends.
Teens were asked to self-report on sleep quality and quantity over a series of issues, and the researchers found that the control group of teenagers were on average getting around eight hours of sleep a night on school nights and a little over nine and half hours sleep on weekends.
Meanwhile, the group who had a depressive diagnosis were getting less than seven and a half hours sleep on week nights and just over nine hours sleep at weekends.
Professor Alice Gregory, a study co-author from Goldsmiths University, said:
“The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adolescents aged between 14-17 years typically need around 8-10 hours of sleep each night. What is notable here is that the group with a diagnosis of depression most clearly fell outside of these recommendations during the week — getting on average 7.25 hours of sleep on each school night.”
The control group, the group which reported no depression or anxiety, reported sleeping an average total of 3,597 minutes of sleep each week. Comparatively, the depression group reported getting 272 minutes (3 1/2 hours) less sleep per week. They reported getting 3,325 minutes per week. Apparently, when it comes to sleep and teenage mental health, minutes matter, especially when they add up to hours.
Even though studies relying on self-reporting are generally thought to have lower quality data, the research team believes the sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep reported by the teens is significant.
Dr Orchard said:
“What we are now seeing is that the relationship between sleep and mental health for teenagers is a two way street. While poorer sleep habits are associated with worse mental health, we are also seeing how addressing sleep for young people with depression and anxiety can have a big impact on their wellbeing.
“It’s also important to note that the numbers of young people who report anxiety and depression are still low overall. Good sleep hygiene is important, and if you are concerned about yours or your child’s wellbeing we strongly encourage you to seek support from your doctor, but any short term negative impact on sleep is not a cause for alarm.”
Professor Gregory said:
“The Department for Education is aware of the importance of sleep in children and adolescence — and it is really good news that from September 2020 Statutory Guidance will mean that they will be taught about the value of good quality sleep for many aspects of their lives including their mood.”
Co-author Professor Michael Gradisar from Flinders University, Australia added:
“This longitudinal study confirms what we see clinically — that poor sleep during adolescence can be a ‘fork in the road’, where a teen’s mental health can deteriorate if not treated. Fortunately there are sleep interventions available for schools and individual families — and these can place teens back on the road to healthy sleep..”
While none of the findings of this study are either new or particularly surprising, they do reinforce something parents know intuitively. Teenagers need sleep. Sleep allows for proper physical development, fosters more effective learning and absolutely has a positive impact on their mental health.
Most teenagers probably believe they are invincible. At least, that’s how it often seems. Those of us who are parents obviously know better. Encourage your teens to get enough sleep. At some point, they’ll thank you for it. Okay, maybe not, but at least they’ll more likely avoid depression and anxiety.
Keep the faith and keep after it!
Journal Reference – Faith Orchard, Alice M. Gregory, Michael Gradisar, Shirley Reynolds. Self‐reported sleep patterns and quality amongst adolescents: cross‐sectional and prospective associations with anxiety and depression. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 2020; DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.13288