Monday, December 22, 2014

Depressed teen? Maybe too little sleep is the cause

A recent study found that sleep deprivation greatly increased teens' risk of developing depression over the course of the year. How much sleep is your teen getting each night?

Depressed teen? Maybe too little sleep is the cause

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This happens all the time:  A tearful teen sits before me, describing pretty crippling depression or anxiety, and sometimes both. We are in a session, I am her therapist, and I am nodding sympathetically. 

Then I ask the fateful question: “What time did you go to bed last night?”  

I am alarmed by her answer, “like, maybe 1:30?”  I am even more horrified to learn that she typically clocks between five to seven hours of sleep a night and “maybe a little more” on weekends. 

I tell her all about the dangers of not getting enough sleep on a teen’s developing mind. I grimly recount the statistics on accidents caused by drowsy driving.  My sympathetic nodding is quickly replaced by finger-wagging.  (Moms and Dads, I’m not suggesting you try this at home. Therapy-through-nagging works about as well as parenting-through-nagging ESPECIALLY on teenagers).

My method may be wrong, but my heart is in the right place. Sleep deprivation is dangerous to a teen’s mental health, according to a nicely designed study released this month in the journal Sleep. Researchers followed a group of over 3,000 Houston-based teens aged 11-17 for a year. Teens were interviewed for one to two hours about their mental health and sleep habits; they also filled out questionnaires. One year later, families were visited again and the same information was gathered. 

The researchers found that sleep deprivation greatly increased teens’ risk of developing depression over the course of the year they were followed.

So why is it that teens do not get enough sleep? First, puberty shifts teens’ internal circadian clocks, making them naturally become tired later.  Teens have jobs and activities that keep them out late. Then there’s homework.  Then there’s the sirens’ call of Facebook, texting, Kindling, Snapchatting, Instagraming and the like keep them up even later. And the older you get, the earlier school starts.

How much sleep does the average teen need?  Nine to ten hours a night.  How much sleep does the average teen get?  A lot less than that – with about 20 percent of teens reporting they get less than 6 hours a night. (This statistic keeps me up at night.)

So what can parents do?  Probably the same thing that I do with my sleep deprived patients, once I’ve stopped the lecturing:

  • Help them problem-solve regarding how they can:
  1. complete homework efficiently,
  2. have a regular bedtime that they stick to no matter what, and
  3. police themselves to turn off all electronics once they settle down for the night.
  • Provide relentless cheerleading and support for the next few weeks as they test these changes, until they find out on their own just how good it feels to get enough sleep.

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Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist of The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
About this blog
The Healthy Kids blog is your window into the latest news, research and advice around children's health. Learn more about our growing list of contributors here.

If you have questions about your child's health, ask them here.

Anna Nguyen Healthy Kids blog Editor
Sarah Levin Allen, Ph.D., CBIS Assistant Professor of Psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Stephen Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A. Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Temple University Hospital
Peter Bidey, D.O. Medical Director of Family Medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Christopher C. Chang, MD, PhD, MBA, FAAAAI, FACAAI Associate Professor of Medicine in division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology at UC Davis
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist of The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Gary A. Emmett, M.D., F.A.A.P Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
Mario Cruz, M.D. Pediatrician, Associate Director of Pediatric Residency Program at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children
Magee DeFelice, M.D. Division Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, M.D. Chief of Pediatric Emergency Services at Nemours duPont Pediatrics/Bryn Mawr Hospital
Rima Himelstein, M.D. Adolescent Medicine Specialist at Crozer-Keystone Health System
Jessica Kendorski, PhD, NCSP, BCBA-D Associate Professor in School Psychology/Applied Behavior Analysis at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Anita Kulick President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
Beth Wallace Smith, R.D. Registered Dietitian at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Jeanette Trella, Pharm.D Managing Director at The Poison Control Center at CHOP
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D., ABPP Director of Integrated Health Care for American Psychological Association
Flaura Koplin Winston, M.D., Ph.D. Scientific Director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention
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