Sleep Patterns Linked With Mental Disorders in Teens

Patient Expert

Sleep is particularly important for the health of children; studies have found that sleep deprived teenagers are more likely to get sick compared to healthy sleepers and some sleep disorders have been found to affect a child’s mental health.

A 2017 study published in The Journal of Pediatrics set out to investigate the link between different sleep patterns and a range of mental health disorders.

Researchers examined data from over 10,000 teens between 13 and 18 years old. The data was collected through the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement — a nationally representative survey of teenagers in the continental U.S.

The sleep patterns of teenagers

The data revealed that the average teenager:

  • Went to bed at 10:37 PM on weeknights
  • Went to bed one hour and 49 minutes later on weekends
  • Slept for seven hours and 43 minutes on weeknights
  • Slept for an additional one hour and 10 minutes on weekends

Older teenagers generally went to bed later and had shorter sleep durations compared to younger teenagers.

How teenage sleep patterns influence health

Researchers found that short sleep durations (seven hours or less) and later weekday bedtimes (after 10:30 PM) were associated with:

A similar sleep pattern on weekends was also associated with most of these negative outcomes.

Researchers also found that delaying bedtime by more than two hours on weekends and oversleeping for more than two hours on weekends was associated with higher odds of a mental disorder, suicidality, tobacco smoking and poor perceived physical and mental health.

Why is oversleeping on the weekend bad for teenagers?

As the authors of the study pointed out, oversleeping on weekends may be a symptom of severe sleep loss during the week. Oversleeping can also disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm. Both of these factors have been linked to poor mental health.

Although this study did not reveal a cause and effect relationship between sleep patterns and mental disorders, it did demonstrate an association between the two — and led the researchers behind this study to suggest that irregular sleep patterns may be a marker of an unrecognized or untreated mental disorder in teenagers.

With that being said, more research is needed before such a link can be considered definitive. We still don’t know for sure whether irregular sleep patterns lead to mental health problems or whether mental health problems lead to irregular sleep patterns — but there is reason to believe the relationship may be bidirectional.

Sleep patterns associated with fewest negative health outcomes

The study found that:

  • Early bedtimes (before 10:00 PM) were associated with lower odds of suicidality.
  • Weekend bedtimes that remained within one hour of weekday bedtimes were not associated with any mental disorders or health outcomes.
  • Weekday sleep durations of more than eight hours were not associated with any mental disorders or health outcomes.
  • Getting slightly more sleep on weekends may help reduce the risks associated with weekday sleep loss.

How to create a healthy sleep pattern for your teen

First, make sure your teen is getting enough sleep based on his or her age. Somewhere between seven and 12 hours may be appropriate.

Second, make sure your teen is sticking to a regular sleep schedule. I recommend staying within half an hour of the same bedtime every night of the week, including weekends. I also recommend restricting weekend morning lie-ins to one hour.

Finally, it may be beneficial to limit your teen’s use of electronic devices. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends teens limit their screen time to less than two hours per day and keep screens out of the bedroom. This helps reduce exposure to artificial light which can harm sleep while also preventing the sleep disruption associated with incoming notifications and the temptation to send and receive messages during the night.

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