Alaska Sleep Education Center

Teens, sleep, and depression: The Link Parents Should Know

Posted by Julia Higginson on Apr 9, 2018 5:00:00 AM

Constant moodiness, sleeping in late, copping an attitude, and even being depressed are all seen as typical teenage behavior. But what if your teen just being a teen is really your teen reacting to the effects of sleep deprivation.

Teens who are struggling with sadness or even depression may in fact be struggling to clock enough time sleeping each night. The teenage years are already filled with tremendous hormone changes and brain development that affect moods. Sleep deprivation in teens can also severe effect on the physical and mental well being of your teen.

Sleep and puberty


Current studies show that between 60 to 70% of American teens are mildly to severely deprived of sleep. Understanding that a teen’s sleeping habits change from childhood to adolescence can go a long way to eliminating sleep deprivation.

The biggest change teenagers undergo is a shift in their circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythm is basically your 24-hour internal clock that helps you know when to sleep and when to be awake. Your child’s circadian rhythm usually alerts them to be sleepy around 8 pm. When puberty hits, the rhythm shifts a couple of hours latter. Teens’ bodies tell them to go to bed around 10 pm.

The natural shift in a teen’s circadian rhythm is referred to as sleep phase delay. Has your teen suddenly struggled to fall asleep at your set bedtime? You might be thinking your teen is suffering insomnia when the truth is their childhood bedtime no longer fits their changed circadian rhythm.

The nature of the teenage years brings multiple challenges to the goal of getting adequate sleep. Most teens have a hard time getting enough sleep from their over-packed schedules. Your teen might be struggling with having to go to school earlier, endure eight hours of school, and participate in multiple after school activities. Add in late night studying plus social activities and it’s no wonder your teen is struggling to catch some sleep.

The teen body needs sleep in order to cope with the rapid physical, cognitive, and emotional growth that happens. Sleep deprivation in teens mean they are at risk for health and learning issues as well as emotional problems.

Sleep deprivation can also put your teen at risk for depression. Dr. Mary Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University and director of chronobiology and sleep research at Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island, explains that sleep deprivation puts teenagers into a kind of perpetual cloud or haze.

“One of the metaphors I use is that it’s like having an astigmatism. You don’t realize how bad your vision is until you get glasses or in this case, good sleep.”

That haze from sleep deprivation can negatively affect a teen’s mood, ability to think, to react, to learn, and to regulate their emotions.

Emotions and sleep


A lack of sleep can cause a teen to lack the ability to control emotions, impulses, and mood. Depression is not a normal part of growing up.

Sleep deprivation can cause lasting effects on the mental well being of even the most resilient teen. Teens who are predisposed to depression will have a more difficult time with the side effects of no sleep.

Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston found that teens who don’t get enough sleep are four times as likely to develop major depressive disorder than their peers who do get enough sleep.

REM sleep helps to contribute to emotional regulation, learning, and memory. Deep sleep helps the brain to digest what was learned during the day as well as helping moods to be stable.

Teens who aren’t getting enough sleep often wake up feeling ok, but as the day wears on so does their energy level. Low energy levels can translate to crankiness, irritability, and even depressive moods.

If you think about it, regulating your emotions is hard to do when you are sleepy. Depression and suicidal thoughts can be linked with the amount of sleep your teen is getting.

If you are worried about your teen’s mood and behavior, you should make an appointment with a physician to evaluate if sleep can be a contributing factor.

Changing habits

The best solution for depression linked to sleep deprivation is to get more sleep. The solution is better said than done but a priority should be placed on getting enough sleep.

As a parent, you should monitor how much sleep your teen is getting. Take note of how many hours they are clocking every night. Your teen should be getting between nine and ten hours of sleep each night.

There are steps you can take if your teen is not getting the recommended amount of sleep. The first step is to set a reasonable bedtime for each night and the same wake up time for the morning. A regular sleep schedule can go a long way towards helping your teen get enough sleep.

Another step is to cut out electronics before bed. That means no TV, no video games, no phones, and no electronic devices at least 90 minutes before bedtime.

The blue light emitted from electronic devices trick the brain into thinking that it’s no longer time to sleep. The glow of the blue light can delay the release of melatonin, increase alertness, and reset the body’s circadian rhythm.

You might consider making the bedroom a technology free zone. Teens are more likely to check social media or respond to texts throughout the night. The temptation to be connected to social media and friends 24/7 is a real problem for teens.

In fact, staying up late to be on social media is being termed “vamping” by many teens. Vamping — a reference to vampires who have no need to sleep — is a new trend. Teens are documenting their 'all-nighters' by posting selfies on Instagram from bed, with the hashtags #teen and #vamping.

Teens are biologically disposed to stay up latter at night and to sleep in latter in the morning. But most teens can’t complete their sleep cycle because they have to wake up early for school or they are interrupting their cell with technology use.


Sleep needs to become a priority. Teens who are able to establish good sleep habits are significantly less likely to suffer from depression or to have suicidal thoughts. Alaska Sleep Clinic is the leader in Alaska for Pediatric Sleep Studies. We know how important your child is to you and are here to help! Call Alaska Sleep Clinic @ (907) 770-9104 in Anchorage, (907) 420-0540 in Soldotna, (907) 357-6700 in Wasilla or (907) 374-3063 in Fairbanks.

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Topics: Pediatrics, teens, behavioral psychology, depression, suicide, sleep habits, losing sleep

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