Sleep Deprivation and Teen Depression

Experts say children ages 10 to 17 need approximately 9 hours of sleep each night. But after-school activities, homework, television and online distractions make getting this much rest challenging for many.

It hardly seems fair that the hormonal changes associated with puberty exacerbate the problem since biologically adolescents are driven to go to sleep later and sleep longer. Evidentially, Mother Nature hasn't adapted to our 24/7 culture.

Given the fact that early school start times require students to be out the door by 7 a.m., high schools are full of sleep-deprived teens. Like zombies they find it hard to stay alert and focused in class and many report feeling sleepy all day.

Insufficient rest has emotional, behavior, and cognitive consequences. It affects every part of life—from relationships with friends and family, to school performance and health. Lack of sleep is bad for the complexion and causes teens to gain weight as well. If your teen seems moody it could be the serotonin in her body is out of whack. Sleep helps keep hormones and chemicals in the body regulated, too.

But perhaps the most serious side affect occurs when drowsy drivers get behind the wheel. More than 100,000 traffic accidents occur each year and teens are in more than half of the crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Michael Banov, MD is a triple board-certified adult, adolescent, and addiction psychiatrist and the medical director of Northwest Behavioral Medicine and Research Center in Atlanta. He says most teens have poor sleep hygiene. "They stay up late and don't understand the importance of going to sleep at regular times," says the expert who is also the author of Taking Antidepressants: Your Comprehensive Guide to Starting, Staying On, and Safely Quitting (Sunrise River Press, 2010).

Stress combined with poor sleep habits, can put a teenager who may be genetically predisposed to depression at greater risk for developing the condition, Banov warns. "Lack of sleep alone usually doesn't trigger depression," the Harvard-trained doctor explains. "However, sleep disturbances—either insomnia or getting too much sleep—can be signs of depression and should not be ignored."

The National Sleep Foundation's 2006 Poll, Sleep in America found that of the 1,602 adolescents polled, 58 percent said they worried about things too much and/or felt stressed out/anxious (56 percent). The results also showed that 73 percent of those adolescents who reported feeling unhappy, sad, or depressed also reported not getting enough sleep at night and being excessively sleepy. See how you can help your teen get better sleep.

If you think your teen is depressed, don't assume that just fixing his sleep is sufficient. While sleeping better is healing to some degree, Branov advises consulting a health care professional who can determine if there are other issues at play, such as undue stress, bullying, or drugs/alcohol use.



Interview with Michael Branov, MD arranged through Gail Bradney at CS Lewis Publicity (

National Sleep Foundation

Teens and Sleep

APA (American Psychological Association). Article, "Lack of Sleep May be Undermining Teen Health."