Your Sleep-Deprived Teen Could Be At Risk For Depression

Filed under: Teens, Development/Milestones: Babies, In The News, Feeding & Sleeping

It's no secret that teenagers like to stay up late. In households across Canada this very night, there will no doubt be arguments over when the lights (and the computer, the TV, the iPod and the phone) should get turned off. But according to a recent study, your teen's late-night habits could contribute to mental health issues in the long term.

As reported by the Montreal Gazette, a Columbia University study involving over 15,000 American high school students has shown that inadequate sleep can increase the risk of depression and suicidal thoughts.

The study, published in the January 1 edition of the journal Sleep, involved 15,659 teens from Grades 7 to 12. Teens allowed to stay up until midnight or later were 24 percent more likely to suffer from depression, and 20 per cent more likely to have suicidal thoughts than teens with bedtimes of 10PM or earlier. And teens who were getting five or fewer hours of sleep per night were 71 percent more likely to suffer from depression and 48 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts than teens who were getting eight hours of sleep a night. In addition, the average amount of sleep that the teens in the study were getting each night was seven hours and 53 minutes, far less than the estimated nine hours of sleep adolescents should be getting each night.

Canadian psychotherapist and parenting expert Alyson Schafer is the author of Honey I Wrecked The Kids and the host of call-in television program The Parenting Show. She predicts that sleep is going to be a "hot topic" in the media, as researchers learn more about the detrimental and potentially dangerous effects of sleep deprivation.

"I absolutely believe that we are a sleep-deprived culture and teens are certainly vulnerable to it," says Schafer. "What happens to the brain during deep sleep is imperative to good mental health." She also pointed to recent studies which show that eroding sleep times appear to not only be creating depression problems, but are contributing to North America's alarming childhood obesity levels as well. Sleep-deprived teens seeking energy to overcome their fatigue are over-consuming carbohydrates, which leads to blood sugar swings, more quick energy cravings and more overeating.

So how can you help your teen get sufficient sleep? Not by yelling at them to go to bed, says Schafer, which will only give them more motivation to find ways around your rules.

"Now that there is the internet and text messaging, there is a party going on 24 hours a day, so your teen is always going to be missing the party," she says. "Don't expect that to change. The question is: What can you do to be successful around that?"

As the mother of two teenage daughters, Schafer says that she tries to coach her kids about the sleep issue rather than enforcing a strict bedtime. "You ask, 'How many hours did you get last night? You're saying you're tired, you went to bed at 12 and got up at 7, that's 7 hours. So it sounds like you need more than that'. So rather than rebelling against my control, they see that I trust them and I support them, and I hold up a mirror to help them learn for themselves that when they're staying up, they're choosing fatigue the next day."

She also thinks that the school system should do its part to ensure that teens get the sleep they need.

"I have always been an advocate of getting the high schools to move in line with the circadian rhythms of youth," she says. "If you leave teens on their own they do get the proper amount of sleep -- They would just like to go to bed at 12 and get up at 10. Some of these kids are getting up at 6 to get on the bus, so I am a big advocate of changing school hours to coincide with the natural rhythms of the young developing mind. School start times should be at 10 in the morning rather than at 8."

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.