Tired Teens: Sleep Disturbances and Heightened Vulnerability for Mental Health Difficulties

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Inadequate sleep is one of the most common yet modifiable public health problems facing youth today, and accumulating evidence suggests that sleep problems are associated with increased risk for mental health difficulties [1,2]. Nonetheless, comprehensive longitudinal data in early adolescence is lacking, despite the numerous biological, cognitive, and socioemotional changes that occur during this period that increase risk for both poor sleep and mental health. In this issue of Journal of Adolescent Health, Goldstone et al. [3] examined associations between sleep and concurrent and later mental health symptoms using data from a national U.S. sample of 11,670 early adolescents aged 9–10 years who were enrolled in the ongoing Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. The results suggest that parent-reported sleep disturbances, including excessive somnolence (e.g., difficulty waking in the morning and feeling tired throughout the day), difficulties initiating and maintaining sleep, symptoms of sleep–wake transition disorders, and shorter total sleep duration are associated with internalizing, externalizing, and depressive symptoms, with the strongest effects for excessive somnolence and difficulties initiating and maintaining sleep. Follow-up analyses with an available subsample of youth found that these sleep disturbances also predicted increases in mental health symptoms 1 year later. In contrast, screen time only explained a small amount of variance in mental health (<1%), which is in line with other large-scale analyses that have found small effects of media use on adolescent psychological functioning [4]. The comparatively large effects of sleep disturbances in the present study lend support to the notion that sleep is a more proximal risk factor for mental health in teens, presenting a viable target for intervention and prevention efforts.




Palmer, Cara A. “Tired Teens: Sleep Disturbances and Heightened Vulnerability for Mental Health Difficulties.” Journal of Adolescent Health 66, no. 5 (May 2020): 520–521. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2020.01.023.
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