Study reveals how adolescent sleep patterns impact mental health

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mental-health(NaturalHealth365)  For a considerable time, experts have emphasized the significance of a restful night’s sleep, claiming it contributes to a more youthful appearance, improved health, weight loss, heightened productivity, and enhanced focus.

However, a recent study has found a connection between the sleep patterns of adolescents and their mental well-being, highlighting an elevated risk of suicidal thoughts and depression.

Study links poor sleep patterns to declining mental health

The study, conducted by the National Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention (NASP), surveyed middle school students from 116 Stockholm County schools.  The students self-reported their wake times and bedtimes for school days as well as holidays and weekends, allowing researchers to identify patterns and preferences in their chronotype (timing of sleep).

The students were also asked questions regarding their perceived quality of sleep as well as questions that assessed potential mental health risks such as suicidal thoughts and depressive symptoms.

While experts advise that adolescents get 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night, especially on school days, the study showed that nearly half of the students were falling short of that recommendation.  Further, several students reported that they are “night owls,” a chronotype that involves being more active and alert at night, meaning that they naturally stay up later.  This chronotype is not compatible with the beginning of the school day, leaving students sleep-deprived.

Other results of the study showed that the students who slept fewer hours at night were more likely to report depressive symptoms and/or suicidal thoughts than students who got more sleep at night.

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While this study was conducted on Swedish children, the risk is not exclusive to that part of the world.   It is very probable that the picture is very similar here in the U.S. Children need more sleep than adults, regardless of where they live.

Is your child getting enough sleep?

Sleep is important for everyone, especially children.  The list of symptoms and signs of sleep deprivation is long.  It includes:

  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Hyperactivity
  • Mood swings
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Inattention
  • Depression
  • Frequent tardiness at school
  • Impulse control issues
  • Irritability
  • Frequent absenteeism at school
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty with focus
  • Falling asleep at school

Some of these are more subtle than others, but all of these symptoms can point to a sleep problem, especially when the child presents with several symptoms.

So, how much sleep should your child get?  This is what experts recommend:

  • 5 to 10 years old – 10 to 11 hours of sleep
  • 10 to 17 years old – 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep
  • 18 and older – 7 to 9 hours of sleep

How do you know if your child is getting enough sleep?  If your child shows all four of the following, it suggests they are likely getting the appropriate amount of sleep:

  • They are able to fall asleep in 15 to 30 minutes of going to bed
  • They are able to wake up easily at their correct wake time
  • They are alert and awake all-day
  • They do not require naps during the day

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, an estimated 10% of children in the U.S. have a problem with sleep.  Among children who have mental health issues and developmental or neurological disorders, 50% to 75% of them have sleep problems.

Depression and suicidal thoughts are on the rise: Could better sleep help?

Depression and suicidal thoughts are on the rise.  In the U.S. alone, the suicide rate increased by 40% from 2000 to 2021, accounting for almost 50,000 deaths.

In 2021, suicide was one of the nine leading causes of death for individuals from 10 years old to 64 years old.  In the 10 to 14-year-old age group, as well as the 20 to 34-year-old age group, it ranked second as the leading cause of death.

Could better sleep help improve some of these statistics?  Researchers say it very well could.

Reduce mental health risks by getting more and better quality sleep

If you have a troubled relationship with sleep, it is vital that you find a way to correct it.  Your mental health, and your child’s mental health, depends on getting more and better quality sleep.

  • Talk to your child’s doctor about any medication that may cause depression or impact sleep.  Work together to find something better – and safer.
  • Make your child’s bedroom a sleep haven – or make it easily convertible from a playroom to a sleep station.  Comfy pillows, low lights (prior to sleep time), cool temp, total darkness (when sleeping), and comfort items make for a peaceful, relaxing sleep haven.
  • Turn off all electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime.  This includes phones, computers, and tablets because the backlit screens trick the brain into believing it is daytime when it isn’t.
  • Lower the temperature.  Cooler temps promote better sleep.
  • Play soft music or use a white noise machine to lull your child into sleep.
  • Avoid food (especially any food with sugar) for at least 2 hours before bedtime.
  • Limit fluid intake a couple of hours before bedtime, and definitely avoid caffeinated drinks at least 5 hours before bed.  If your child is thirsty, by all means, give them something to drink, but stick to water.  This will reduce the number of times they get up to go to the restroom during the night.
  • If they need a comfort item, let them have it.  A favorite stuffed animal, a nightlight, a favorite blanket, or anything that helps the child feel more secure and comfortable should not be withheld – as long as it is safe.  They are never too old to be allowed a comfort item.
  • Create a bedtime routine with your child so they develop the habit of winding down, using each step in the schedule as a marker.
  • Make the bed.  Teach them to make their bed each morning so that they get into a nicely made bed each night.  That has been proven to improve sleep.

Bottom line: make sleep a top health priority.  When you make sleep a priority for you, you set an example for them to follow.  Don’t just tell them that sleep is important; show them.  Getting good, regular sleep can help you be healthier physically and mentally.

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