Poor sleep significantly linked with teenage depression

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Teenagers who experience very poor sleep may be more likely to experience poor mental health in later life, new research suggests.

In a paper published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, researchers analysed self-reported sleep quality and quantity from 5,033 teenagers and found a significant relationship between poor sleep and mental health issues. 

Teenagers with a depressive diagnosis at the age of 15 were found to be sleeping on average a total of three and a half hours less per week than those without anxiety or depression.

The team, based at the University of Reading, Goldsmiths, University of London and Flinders University found that among participants, those who experienced depression reported both poor quality and quantity of sleep. Those with anxiety had poor quality of sleep only, compared to those teenagers who took part who didn’t report anxiety or depression.

Teens were asked to self-report on sleep quality and quantity. The researchers found that those teenagers who did not report anxiety or depression 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 week nights and just over nine hours sleep at weekends. 

The researchers note that the numbers of young people who report anxiety and depression are still low overall. They encourage anyone with concerns for their child’s wellbeing to seek support from a doctor, but say that short term negative impact on sleep is not a cause for alarm. 

Dr Faith Orchard, Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of Reading said: “This latest research is another piece of evidence to show that there is a significant link between sleep and mental health for teenagers. 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.”

Co-author, Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths Alice Gregory, said: “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 those 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.” 

“The Department for Education is aware of the importance of sleep in children and adolescence – and it is really good news that from September 2020 Statutory Guidance will mean that they will be taught about the value of good quality sleep for many aspects of their lives including their mood.” 

Data was derived from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a birth cohort study of children born in 1991–1992. Data was explored from a subset of participants who took part in a clinical assessment aged 15, with subsequent analysis of anxiety and depression at ages 17, 21 and 24. 

While the team noted that although the data was based on self-reporting of sleep which may differ from objective measures of sleep, the associations reported is still of interest as our subjective sense of sleep is important.

Self‐reported sleep patterns and quality amongst adolescents: cross‐sectional and prospective associations with anxiety and depression by Faith Orchard (University of Reading), Alice Gregory (Goldsmiths, University of London), Michael Gradisar (Flinders University) and Shirley Reynolds (University of Reading) was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry on Wednesday 17 June 2020: https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13288

This story is based on an original University of Reading press release