Today is World Sleep Day! The theme of this year is Quality Sleep, Sound Mind, Happy World and is dedicated to raising awareness of how sleep helps us maintain and even improve our mental health.
Sleep is essential to everyone, but especially to teenagers and young adults. Many struggle to get out of bed in the morning and often spend their nights staying up late when they can. However, there is a reason for this behaviour.
Teenagers and Sleep
Do you have a teenager who spends half of Saturday in bed? Or maybe you are a teenager who loves their bed and doesn’t understand why anyone would want to get up.
You may not know, but this is a response to changes in puberty for young adults. Research has shown that teenagers and young adults find it difficult to fall asleep before 11pm and need at least nine hours of sleep every night. This is because teens’ brains are still developing, and they need more rest to support this growth and their physical maturation.
Getting enough sleep can also help teenagers with their academic achievement, as it benefits the brain by promoting attention and memory. If they don’t get enough sleep, their academic performance may suffer, as can their mental and emotional health. A lack of sleep in teenagers can also result in:
- A lack of self-regulation – teenagers who do not get enough sleep can struggle to control their emotions, anger, and impulsivity.
- Substance abuse – research has found that teenagers who get upwards of seven hours of sleep per night are far less likely to abuse substances such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol to deal with a lack of sleep.
- Negative mood – young adults who do not get enough sleep report feeling stressed, anxious, and sad. This can also lead to a vicious cycle, and these emotions can lead to teenagers being unable to fall asleep at night.
Studies have focused on the link between teenage sleep and mental health. One such study conducted over several years found that teenagers who slept poorly at age 15 were more likely to be experiencing depression or anxiety between the ages of 17 to 24.
Sleep and Mental Health
Mental health can affect how you sleep, and sleep can affect your mental health. In some cases, it can be a cycle – a lack of sleep leads to tiredness, which then leads to difficulty dealing with daily life, leading to feelings of worry, stress, and anxiety, which then affects sleep.
When people have problems sleeping, they can experience many difficulties, including:
- Feeling lonely due to a lack of energy to see people or make plans.
- Exacerbated symptoms of any existing mental health problems.
- Heightened irritability.
- An increased likelihood of psychotic episodes, such as mania or psychosis.
On the other hand, people who are experiencing mental health problems may face issues with their sleep because of their conditions:
- Depression can lead to insomnia, in which people struggle to fall and stay asleep.
- Anxiety causes racing thoughts that can cause people to stay awake.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause severe flashbacks and nightmares that disturb sleep. It may also cause people to feel unsafe in their beds, leading to difficulty falling asleep.
- Mania, a symptom of conditions such as bipolar disorder, causes feelings of intense energy, and many people do not feel tired or don’t want to sleep during a manic episode.
Some researchers believe that improving sleep can help to reduce and even prevent mental health conditions from arising later in life. More research is needed into this idea, but it is undeniable that sleep can help.
How To Improve Your Sleep
If you are worried about how your sleep is affecting your or your teenager’s mental health, there are several steps that you can take to help create a new routine that may help improve sleep:
- Set a bedtime – although teenagers will grumble at the idea of bedtime, having a set time to wind down can signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep, making sleep come easier. Bedtime doesn’t mean that they have to fall asleep instantly – it simply means they have a set time to wind down and relax.
- Avoid screens – the blue light from phone and tablet screens mimics the blue light we see during the day, which signals to the brain that it isn’t time to sleep yet. It also impacts the area of the brain called the pineal gland, which secretes melatonin, a substance that makes us sleepy. Try encouraging your teenager to leave their devices outside of their bedroom when they go to bed to avoid this and improve their sleep.
- Reduce caffeine intake – caffeine works by blocking specific receptors in your brain to reduce feelings of tiredness. Drinking caffeine in tea, coffee, or energy drinks too close to bedtime can disrupt sleep, with one study finding that consuming caffeine six hours before bedtime can reduce total time asleep by an hour. Limit your teenager’s caffeine intake in the afternoon by finding decaffeinated coffee and tea options and educating them about how energy drinks can affect their sleep.
Even if you try these tips and can’t sleep, this isn’t cause for concern. Get up and do something relaxing, such as reading a book or listening to a podcast, until you feel tired.
Sleep is vital to everyone, especially teenagers and young adults. With a lack of sleep, they may find that their academic performance suffers and struggle with their mood and emotional regulation.
There is a science to sleeping better. Limiting caffeine intake and removing screens from the bedroom at night can improve your teen’s sleep, and they may even see improvements to their mental health.
However, underlying mental health conditions can also affect sleep, and more intensive treatment is needed to help improve all aspects of life, not only sleep. Contact The Wave today to learn more about our specialist treatment for all types of mental health conditions and how we can help you.
 Orchard F, Gregory AM, Gradisar M, Reynolds S. Self-reported sleep patterns and quality amongst adolescents: cross-sectional and prospective associations with anxiety and depression. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2020 Oct;61(10):1126-1137. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.13288. Epub 2020 Jun 17. PMID: 32557672.
 Drake, Christopher et al. “Caffeine Effects On Sleep Taken 0, 3, Or 6 Hours Before Going To Bed”. Journal Of Clinical Sleep Medicine, vol 09, no. 11, 2013, pp. 1195-1200. American Academy Of Sleep Medicine (AASM), https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.3170. Accessed 23 Feb 2022.
Fiona Yassin is the International Clinical Director of The Wave Clinic. Fiona is a UK Registered Adolescent and Family Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor (Licence number #361609 NCP/ICP), further trained in the specialty of Eating Disorders and Borderline Personality Disorder Treatment. Fiona is trained in FBT (Family Based Therapy), CBTE for eating disorders, FREED (King’s College, London), EMDR for eating disorders (EMDRIA) and has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Neuroscience and Trauma from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Fiona works with international families and family offices from the UK, Dubai, Kuwait, Singapore and Malaysia. Fiona can be contacted by email on [email protected].