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Good Sleep is Essential for Teen Mental Health

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Good sleep is essential for mental health, and it can be especially important to teens.  As they grow and cope with stress, the emotional regulation provided by REM sleep, which tends to occur closer to wake-up time, allows our teens to grow and thrive.

Now, researchers from McGill University in Canada have found that teens who slept more during the pandemic were better able to avoid the depression and anxiety caused by shutdowns.

The researchers studied how teens whose sleep they were tracking pre-pandemic coped with shutdowns.  Before the pandemic, most of the teens in the study got insufficient sleep. They woke up tired, slept too few hours a night, and suffered from “social jet lag,” where weekend sleep patterns differ from weekday sleep.

They expected the pandemic to make sleeping problems worse, due to the lack of regular schedules and increased stress.  What they found instead was that many teens saw their sleep schedules improve during lockdowns.

Teens in lockdown:

  • Slept Later
  • Slept Longer
  • Stayed up later
  • Fell asleep quickly when  they did go to bed
  • Stopped having social jetlag

What happened?  Well, without early school starts, teens could sleep until they felt ready to wake up.  Because they had no extracurricular activities, they didn’t have to stay up late to do homework. But, on the other hand, parents also became less strict about bedtimes, so the teens didn’t head to bed until they were ready to sleep.   As a result, social jetlag disappeared – they slept in response to their biological clocks 7 days a week, and their sleep schedules became consistent.

This big change in sleep schedules had huge benefits for their mental health.  Teens whose sleep improved had less anxiety and depression from the pandemic, they were more cheerful, and they were more resilient.

Teens who got less sleep instead of more sleep had more stress, anxiety, and depression. They couldn't bounce back after shutdowns.

Pandemics aren't the only source of stress for teens. Academics, sports, social relationships, and planning for the future can all take their toll.  If we want our kids to grow up to be healthy, happy adults, we need to ensure that their teen years are full of healthy sleep.

If your teen is spending hours in bed and still tired, sleep apnea could be the cause.  Talk to your pediatrician or dentist about a sleep screen, and help your child live their best life.  For an approachable introduction to how sleep and sleep breathing affect your child, check out Airway is Life: Waking up to Your Family’s Sleep Crisis.