Teenagers who fail to get enough sleep are more likely to suffer from depression, anger and lethargy than others, according to a new scientific study. In addition, they are unable to function as well as those who do get enough sleep.
Sleep experts recommend that those aged 14 to 17 need from eight to 10 hours of sleep a night. Any time less than that is considered harmful to teenagers’ mood and ability to function in society.
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The teens were divided into three sleeping groups. Over five nights, the first group spent five hours a night asleep, a second group spent 7.5 hours asleep each night and the third group were able to spend 10 hours sleeping each evening.
Three hours after the teens awoke, the researchers measured their moods. They categorized the teens’ emotions on a scale that included confusion, anxiousness, depression, fear, anxiety, and anger on the one hand and energy and happiness on the other hand.
The researchers found that those teens who slept for only five hours were noticeably more angry, depressed and more lethargic than they were before the test began. In addition, their levels of energy and happiness fell sharply.
In contrast, those teens who were allowed to sleep for 10 hours showed large gains in their degree of happiness and energy.
Failed to fully recover
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The first five days were followed by two nights of recovery for those who had their sleep restricted to five hours a night. The research team found, however, that the two nights were insufficient for the teens to recover fully from their increased negative moods.
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Interestingly, the team found that those whose sleep was restricted to five hours a night failed to display a significant amount of fear or anxiety.
The findings highlighted the importance of sufficient sleep for adolescents to reduce mood disorders, says Dr Michelle Short, a Flinders University research fellow and lead author of the study.
This finding is significant in light of the rising number of mood disorders and emotional distress among adolescents, she adds.
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Poor sleep in their teen years can be a turning point in their lives, says Professor Michael Gradisar from Flinders University, Australia, a member of the research team that conducted the study. If their mental health is not treated, it can deteriorate, he says.
Treatment is available that can put teens on the way to healthy sleep, he adds.
The findings were published in Sleep.
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In an earlier study, conducted by the University of Reading in England, researchers found that teenagers who suffer from depression slept for only an average of 7.25 hours on school nights.
The study was based on self-reporting by the participants.
Of the 4,790 young adults who participated in the study—published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry—the “depression group” reported that they slept an average total of 3,325 minutes a week, whereas the control group said they slept a total of 3,597. These figures showed the “depression group” were on average getting three and a half hours less sleep each week.
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Almost all young people who experience depression and anxiety suffered from poor sleep while they were teenagers, says Dr. Faith Orchard, lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of Reading. They generally went to sleep 30 minutes later each night than others who were considered the control group in the study.
Overall, the study showed that the quantity and quality of sleep must be taken into account when considering how we should support the wellbeing of teenagers, she adds.
The study also found that not only is the length of the teens’ sleep an important factor, but in many cases the quality of their sleep also is significant. Those who are anxious might sleep for an acceptable number of hours, for example, but that type of sleep is not of the best quality.
Among other findings in recent studies conducted on the effect on teens of too little sleep:
• Smartphones are a major cause of teenagers failing to obtain enough sleep, according to a study by researchers at San Diego State University. Teens who use the Internet for more than five hours a day are more likely to suffer from inadequate sleep than those who spend only an hour online each day, the study found.
• Teens who obtain at least eight hours of sleep a night are able to focus more in school and are able to handle social situations more effectively, according to a study by Michigan State University.
• An additional factor found in studies is that teenagers too often spend a lot of time on their phones before falling asleep in the early hours of the morning. Not only is their sleep curtailed, but watching the phone’s screen can cause the quality of the sleep to be less effective.
• Studying late into the night as well as stress created by the pandemic are also cited as reasons teenagers are sleeping for a shorter time.
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