Sleepy-headed teens have long been the center of family taunts and even classroom discipline but not getting sufficient sleep during the high school years is no joke. Nodding off during chemistry could mean kids do more than miss helpful explanations and homework assignments and it could trigger problems with mental health. A 2010 study conducted through the Robert Woods Johnson Medical School found that teens who don’t get enough shut-eye are three times more likely to be depressed than their well-rested peers are.
Teens Need Even More Sleep Than Younger Kids
Over 250 seniors in high school took part in the 2010 New Brunswick, New Jersey study. Using a well-known scale which predicts a person’s risk for falling asleep in the middle of regular daytime activities, better than one half of the students were found to be excessively sleepy during the hours when they are in school. When questioned, teens said they received an average of six hours of sleep Monday through Friday and around eight hours of sleep on weekends. Even if teens try to make up for lost sleep on Saturday mornings, sleep experts recommend a minimum of nine hours of sleep-time for teens every night.
It’s hard to convince teens that they need more sleep even than they did at a younger age during elementary school but research shows that they do. Given the established link between a lack of sleep and low mood, the researchers were not surprised to find that depression was prevalent among the teenage study participants. A significant 32 percent of the teens exhibited some symptoms of depression and another 30 percent showed strong signs of suffering from depression.
Depression Greater Among Sleepier Teens
In fact, the study found that teens who were very sleepy during class (not those who drift off out of boredom or because the room is warm) faced a three-fold greater likelihood to be strongly depressed compared to fellow students who felt well-rested. What still remains unclear is which problem is causal and which is symptomatic. Does a lack of sufficient sleep cause teens to be depressed or does teen depression interrupt healthy sleep? That answer remains elusive but one takeaway from the study is a bit of caution in treating teenage depression.
Depressed Teens Should Try More Sleep
This research suggests that before giving teens medication for depression (antidepressants) health professionals could first try helping them sleep better to see if the depression improves on its own. By gaining more hours of sleep, teens could see an improvement in their depression symptoms.
The findings from this study were presented at an annual convention of sleep researchers in San Antonio, Texas titled SLEEP 2010.