Adolescents who don’t get enough sleep are more vulnerable to depression and addiction, according to research presented at the 56th Annual Meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP).
Previous research supports this conclusion. Research published in 2010 found a link between adolescent depression and sleep deprivation. In that study of 262 high schoolers, more than half experienced excessive sleepiness and fatigue. The sleepy students were three times more likely to show strong depression symptoms than their rested peers.
Sleep Deprivation: An Adolescent Mental Health Risk Factor
For the ACNP study, University of Pittsburgh researchers Erika Forbes and Peter Franzen brought 35 adolescents aged 11.5-15 years into a sleep lab for two nights. They allowed half the adolescents four hours of sleep. The other half slept for 10 hours.
After sleeping, participants played a game while undergoing brain scans. The game let them receive financial rewards of $10 or $1. They also answered questions about their emotional health.
A week later, participants returned to the lab for another two nights. During this trial, the previous sleep schedules were reversed. The participants who slept 10 hours the previous week only slept four hours and vice versa.
Participants who were sleep-deprived displayed changes in a brain area called the putamen. This is a region linked to goal-based actions and reward-based learning. Participants deprived of sleep had less responsive putamens when the game offered a higher reward.
Sleep-deprived participants also reported more symptoms of depression. Researchers speculate this is because depression is characterized by less activity in the brain’s reward system. Since motivation and reward are linked to high-risk behaviors, changes in the putamen may also put teens at risk for addiction.
Why Are Teens Sleep-Deprived?
Sleep deprivation is common among teens, according to research published in 2015. In 2012, just 63% of teens reported getting seven or more hours of sleep per night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get 8-10 hours of sleep per night.
Early school start times might be contributing to the problem. A study published in 2016 found homeschooled children got better sleep than their peers, sleeping an average of 90 minutes more per night. Other studies have linked later school start times to improved attendance and higher graduation rates.
- Sleep deprivation linked to depression in teens. (2010, June 09). CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/06/09/sleep.deprivation.depression/index.html
- Lack of sleep could cause mood disorders in teens. (2017, December 6). Science Daily. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171206090624.htm
- Let them sleep? Later school start times improve graduation and attendance. (2017, April 13). NEA Today. Retrieved from http://neatoday.org/2017/04/13/later-school-start-times
- National Sleep Foundation recommends new sleep times. (2015, February 2). Retrieved from https://sleepfoundation.org/press-release/national-sleep-foundation-recommends-new-sleep-times
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