Teens who get very poor sleep may be more likely to struggle with poor mental health later in life, according to a new study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Researchers from the University of Reading, Goldsmiths University of London and Flinders University analyzed self-reported sleep quality and quantity from teens and found a significant relationship between poor sleep and mental health issues.

They discovered that among the 4,790 participants, teens who experienced depression reported both poor quality and quantity of sleep, while those with anxiety had poor quality of sleep only, compared to those who didn’t report anxiety or depression.

“This latest research is another piece of evidence to show that there is a significant link between sleep and mental health for teenagers,” said Dr. Faith Orchard, a Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of Reading. “This study highlights that those young people who have experienced depression and anxiety had overwhelmingly experienced poor sleep during their teens.”

“What’s noticeable is that the difference in average amount of sleep between those who experienced depression, which amounts to going to sleep 30 minutes later each night compared to other participants. Within the data, there were some participants who reported hugely worse quality and quantity of sleep, and the overall picture highlights that we need to take sleep much more into account when considering support for teenager wellbeing.”

Teens were asked to self-report on sleep quality and quantity over a series of issues, and the researchers found that the control group of teenagers were on average getting around eight hours of sleep a night on school nights and a little over nine-and-a-half hours sleep on weekends.

Meanwhile, the group who had a depressive diagnosis were getting less than seven-and-a-half hours sleep on weeknights and just over nine hours of sleep on the weekends.

“The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adolescents aged between 14-17 years typically need around 8-10 hours of sleep each night. What is notable here is that the group with a diagnosis of depression most clearly fell outside of these recommendations during the week – getting on average 7.25 hours of sleep on each school night,” said co-author Professor Alice Gregory from Goldsmiths University.

The depression group was therefore reporting an average total of 3,325 minutes of sleep a week compared to the control group who reported 3,597, meaning that the depression group were on average getting 272 minutes or three and a half hours less sleep a week.

While the researchers noted that although the data was based on self-reporting of sleep and therefore less accurate, the worse quality and quantity of sleep was still significant.

“What we are now seeing is that the relationship between sleep and mental health for teenagers is a two way street. While poorer sleep habits are associated with worse mental health, we are also seeing how addressing sleep for young people with depression and anxiety can have a big impact on their wellbeing,” said Orchard.

“It’s also important to note that the numbers of young people who report anxiety and depression are still low overall. Good sleep hygiene is important, and if you are concerned about yours or your child’s wellbeing we strongly encourage you to seek support from your doctor, but any short term negative impact on sleep is not a cause for alarm.”

Source: University of Reading