Teen Sleep Patterns And Mental Health

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Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 2.24.07 PMMany teenagers suffer from insomnia or just prefer to stay up late. Strict sleep patterns are difficult to establish during adolescence since weekends are often filled with activities and weekday study sessions can go late. But according to a recent study from South Australia, teenagers are launched into a slippery slope of insomnia and poor mental health once they start delaying their bedtimes.

The University of Adelaide study reveals the delicate balance between sleep, studying and social pressures many teenagers regularly experience. 300 high school students between the ages of 12 and 18 were studied. Teenagers who were more active in the evenings were more likely to have depression, insomnia, or both. The night owls were also more likely to suffer from social phobia, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Obviously, any teen who suffers from depression or another mental disorder should seek help from a child psychiatrist. But this study shows that the approach for treating teenagers with mental health disorders should also take natural factors like sleep into account. The older children become, the more likely they are to show a preference for staying up later at night. This is due to biological factors, but also social factors like academic stress and the use of social media and smart phones.

Once a teen stays up late at night to study or chat, then has to get up early for school, the pattern of sleep deprivation has begun. And while sleep-deprived teens aren’t guaranteed to have mental health issues, the idea that sleep deprivation can lead to problems—or exacerbate mental illnesses that are already present—is reason enough to encourage teens to get a handle on their sleep patterns.

Of course, getting a teenager to agree to regulate his or her sleep patterns can be a difficult task. Even though adolescents need more sleep than adults, they tend to fight early bedtimes and sleep regulation. Here are some tips for parents to follow when addressing the issue of sleep with teenagers:

1. Be aware that teens naturally experience a shift in their circadian rhythms. Because of the natural shift, they often don’t get sleepy until later at night.

2. Help them establish a bedtime routine. Calming nighttime rituals are something we should all have. The idea is to minimize habits that can sabotage sleep and help us fall into our natural rhythm. Since technology is a big culprit, limit your teen’s access to technology use after a certain time in the evening. Computer and smartphone screens emit bright light that stimulates the brain. Suggest calming activities they enjoy such as reading books or meditating.

3. Help them avoid sleeping in on weekends. This will be difficult to implement, and exceptions should be made if your teen stays out late. But the more we can stay on a strict sleep cycle, the easier it will be to fall asleep earlier and wake up for school during the week.

Assess your teen’s sleep patterns and needs, as everyone is different. If your teen establishes a regular sleep pattern and still seems depressed, anxious or otherwise disturbed, look into local behavioral health services for more help.