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Teens need enough sleep, for better mental health

Teenage girl looking at phone screen in bed

Teenagers who get less than six hours of sleep a night are more likely to engage in risky behaviours, such as dangerous driving and cannabis, alcohol and tobacco use, according to a new research paper.

Conversely, teens who get at least eight hours’ sleep a night are more likely to have better mental health.

“It is imperative that sleep is considered in the treatment of mental health concerns in children and adolescence [sic]”, the University of Australia systematic review, published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, says.

Good sleep critical for young people’s resilience

Adequate sleep is important for the physical and mental health of all people, co-author Alex Agostini says, but is particularly important for teens, so they can cope with stressors such as bullying or social pressures.

“For teenagers, sleep is especially critical because they’re at an age where they’re going through a whole range of physical, social and developmental changes, all of which depend on enough sleep,” Dr Agostini says.

Teenagers need at least eight hours of sleep each night, without which they are at more risk of developing behavioural problems, as well as anxiety and depression, she says.

“If sleep drops to less than six hours a night, research shows that teens are twice as likely to engage in risky behaviours such as dangerous driving, marijuana, alcohol or tobacco use, risky sexual behaviour, and other aggressive or harmful activities.”

Technology disrupts sleep

The use of screens at night is one of the most common disruptors of sleep, according to co-author Stephanie Centofanti.

“Not only can technology use make us feel anxious and awake, but the blue light emitted from technology inhibits the production of the sleep hormone melatonin to delay the natural onset of sleep. This is problematic because teens already have a biological tendency to want to stay up late and sleep in,” Dr Centofanti says.

How to help teenagers sleep better

Given around one in seven children and adolescents will suffer from a mental health disorder, most of which will go undetected and untreated, sleep is a very important consideration for parents wanting to take care of their children’s health.

Encouraging sleep hygiene is a great way to help your child get the amount and quality of sleep they need.

This includes:

  •  Keeping a regular sleep/waking schedule
  • Allowing at least one hour of relaxation time to unwind before bedtime
  • Keeping the bedroom quiet, dark, comfortable and at around 16-18°C
  • Exercising regularly, but not within three hours of bedtime
  • Switching off any screens at least half an hour before bed.

For more on sleep, you might be interested in: Rest easier: How to get a better night’s sleep or Your good sleep guide

First published: Feb 2021

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