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6 Ways Sleep Deprivation Affects Teen Mental Health

sleep deprivation and teen mental health issues

6 Ways Sleep Deprivation Affects Teen Mental Health

The Mayo Clinic is starting a new study on delayed sleep phase disorder in teens, claiming “the majority of high school and middle school students are chronically sleep-deprived.” While some school districts have acknowledged the link between sleep deprivation and teen mental health issues, it might take more than just later start times to improve teen’s sleep quality. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is part of self-care that can be disrupted when someone is struggling with low mood and anxiety. Racing thoughts and restlessness may keep teens up at night or they might appear fatigued regardless of how much sleep they’ve gotten the night before. Sleep deprivation can have a significant impact on one’s mood and academic performance, which keeps the cycle going.

What is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is a chronic issue marked by consistently not getting enough good quality sleep. This may include difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, trouble waking up in the morning, nightmares, or an inconsistent sleep schedule. It is common for teenagers to sleep very little during the week due to homework and early start times and sleep away the weekend, only to start the cycle over again. While adults may be better able to function on less sleep or have just adapted to sleep deprivation, teenagers need around 9 ¼ hours of sleep a night and often get closer to seven.

Some signs of sleep deprivation may include:

  • Decreased alertness and difficulty paying attention
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Falling asleep in class
  • Memory problems and forgetfulness
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Headaches
  • Sleep debt or the inability to ever “catch up” on sleep
  • Constant exhaustion

How Sleep Deprivation and Teen Mental Health Issues Are Related 

  1. Restlessness. Sleep deprivation is often misdiagnosed as ADHD due to shared symptoms of trouble paying attention, forgetfulness, and poor impulse control. Teens with ADHD or anxiety may struggle with racing thoughts that keep them up at night and make it harder to settle down.
  2. Irritability. Sleep deprivation makes it harder to regulate your mood, meaning you might get frustrated or upset more easily and not completely understand why. Many people justify this as “not being a morning person” or “needing coffee to be approachable,” however, sleep deprivation is associated with increased activity in the amygdala, which is the part of your brain responsible for experiencing intense emotions.
  3. Low Energy. When sleep does not leave you feeling restored and renewed, it is difficult to find the motivation or energy to keep going throughout the day. This may translate as a loss of interest in some activities or more daytime sleepiness.
  4. Substance Use. Teenagers who are sleep-deprived are more likely to use stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, and amphetamines to get through the day or to drink alcohol or take sleeping pills as a nightcap to imitate a normal sleep schedule. While using drugs to cope with sleep deprivation might mask the effects, it makes it easy to rely on substances in order to feel like they’ve had adequate sleep.
  5. Decline in Academic Performance due to sleep deprivation may trigger increased school anxiety or self-criticism based on personal high standards. Teens may be frustrated by careless mistakes in schoolwork or may internalize bad grades as a sign of personal failure and hopelessness. For teens whose self-worth is influenced by their academic performance, their self-esteem may be significantly affected.

How ViewPoint Can Help

ViewPoint Center is a short-term residential Crisis and Assessment Center for adolescents ages 12 to 17 that helps stabilize and assess teenagers struggling with mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and process addictions that may contribute to sleep deprivation. Before ViewPoint, families are often frustrated and lost. Varying doctors and therapists with a range of advice, diagnoses, and plans leaves parents and children unsure of where to turn. Some teens may not understand why they have been unable to sleep, while others may not realize how beneficial adequate sleep would be in helping them regulate their emotions. At ViewPoint, we centralize all of the different diagnoses, and create a comprehensive holistic report to help your teen and your family to get back on track and transition to the next stage of their recovery.

Call 855-290-9682 for more information about ViewPoint Center.