Teens aren’t getting enough sleep, with a ‘high correlation’ to mental health problems

Most teens don’t get enough sleep, and experts say this can seriously affect their mood, mental health, focus and schoolwork.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that just over three-quarters of high school students didn’t get the recommended amount of sleep during the pandemic.

But that doesn’t appear to be just a by-product of the pandemic disruptions. The CDC noted that “short sleep duration” was becoming more common and happening at about the same rate in the years before the pandemic.

“I think it may have gotten worse for some during the pandemic, but this is really something that we’re seeing a lot in teens and young adults,” said John Dunkle of The Jed Foundation (JED), a nonprofit focused on the mental health of young people. and suicide prevention.

Some young people think they don’t need much sleep, but it can contribute to a range of mental and physical problems, says Dunkle, the senior clinical director of Knowledge & Advising at JED.

Chronically poor or limited sleep can increase anxiety and depression and even lead to “thoughts of suicide,” he said.

It can make regulating emotions more difficult and can dull alertness and concentration.

The CDC report, which came from the Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey conducted in the first half of 2021, noted that poor mental health was much more likely to occur among teens who also weren’t getting enough sleep.

About half of the students who slept only five hours or less reported poor mental health.

For students who got enough sleep, 25% reported poor mental health.

And students who slept less than seven hours during an average school night were more likely to have more difficulty with schoolwork, according to the CDC.

Sleep can be an indicator of many things,” Dunkle said. “Lack of sleep, I’d say.”

It’s Sleep Awareness Week, and Dunkle said the importance of sleep is “misunderstood, which then leads to (it being) undervalued.”

Chronic sleep problems could have an impact on brain development in young people, he said.

Dunkle said there’s no definitive cause-and-effect relationship between poor sleep and something like depression.

But he said, “There’s definitely a high correlation.”

“Does lack of sleep or less sleep lead to more mental health problems or symptoms, or do mental health symptoms lead to sleep deprivation?” he said.

“If we approach one aspect of it, or two, hopefully it will have a positive impact on the other,” he added.

Dunkle and JED gave teens advice to improve their sleep:

  • QUANTITY: Get eight to ten hours of sleep per night. You can’t always control what time you have to get up, so make sure you go to bed early enough.
  • COHERENCE: Be regular with your bedtime, because trying to catch up on sleep on weekends “just doesn’t work,” Dunkle said.
  • PREPARATION: Get rid of cell phones and other screens before going to bed. Have a routine that relaxes you and prepares you mentally for sleep. And make sure you have a cool, quiet and dark bedroom.

Parents should also be sleep role models for teens, Dunkle said.

Teens aren’t getting enough sleep, with a ‘high correlation’ to mental health problems

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