Lack of Sleep and the Risk of Teen Depression

It might come as no surprise to know that those that are getting enough sleep are less at risk for developing teen depression. In fact, teenagers who aren’t getting enough sleep are four times as likely to develop major depressive disorder (MDD) compared to their peers who sleep more.


The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that teens sleep between 9 to 10 hours but research indicates that 70% of adolescents are not sleeping that long. The reasons behind this need for sleep might be obvious: teens are growing emotionally, physically, and psychologically. The brain is going through a significant explosion of creativity and neural connection. The challenges that are inherent in adolescence require the rest and rejuvenation that sleep brings.


Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center tracked the sleep habits of over 4,000 adolescents for one year. What they found is a strong reciprocal relationship between sleep and the psychological health of teens. The study indicated that those teens that were already depressed were four times as likely to lose more sleep. These findings were published in the journal Sleep in February of this year.


Furthermore, a second study found that lack of sleep and excessive use of the media led to related mental health concerns. Both of these studies point to the strong necessity for teens to get the right amount of sleep, and perhaps their parents supporting a regular sleep schedule. Although this might be difficult to establish at first, a teen who goes to bed and rises at the same time every day might feel the difference in his or her mental health. Depression usually inhibits a regular sleep schedule; it will either cause little sleep or oversleeping. Yet, having a regular schedule can help with getting the right amount of rest. If sleeping becomes a challenge, remove the distractions in the bedroom such as a television or computer. It’s well known among experts of teen health that those adolescents who feel supported at home and school sleep better.


The reciprocal relationship between mental health and sleep indicates that establishing a sleep schedule can support those who are already depressed. In fact, one of the techniques of clinicians who find that medication is not working with depressed teens is to explore in detail their quality of sleep.


Sleep deprivation is a serious health problem among teens, often contributing to teen depression. Major Depressive Disorder is considered to be a medical illness that includes symptoms of persistent sadness, loss of interest in daily activities, occupational and educational impairment, along with eventual emotional and physical problems. Major Depressive Disorder usually requires long-term treatment, including psychotherapy and medication.


In addition to establishing a sleep schedule, parents can support their teens by encouraging them to get enough exercise, eat healthy, and laugh.


Exercise: Physical activity can release endorphins, which alone help to boost positive feelings. However, exercise can also help with long-term mental health, including making new connections in the brain, which alone can facilitate enduring change. Furthermore, to experience these benefits from exercise, your teen doesn’t have to run three miles a day; taking a walk regularly can boost mental health.


Eat Healthy: As a caregiver, you can support your teen in his or her diet. It’s easy for your child to come home and grab whatever’s in the cupboard. Yet, often what’s easily accessible may not be best food choice. Preparing meals that are chock full of vegetables can strengthen your teen’s sense of feeling well. For some teens, simply knowing that he or she is eating well can promote feeling better.


Laugh: There are many health benefits to laughing – both physical and mental. Laughing can lower blood pressure, increase blood flow, increase memory and focus, which are both often impaired during depression, improve creativity, and reduce stress. Perhaps you and your teen can read a joke a day to get the belly rolling and the smiles spreading from one ear to the other.


With the right support, your teen can live a healthy life and stay resilient when faced with the challenges of being a teen.




Singh, M. (February 6, 2014). Less Sleep, More Time Online Raise Risk for Teen Depression. Retrieved on May 23, 2014 from: