Sleep problems precede depression – especially in teens

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

I’m attaching a highlighted version of a nice review article (below) published a couple of months ago in Nature Reviews Psychology. 

Here are some of the most interesting findings…

Sleep difficulties arise before depression does.

The combination of adolescent sleep biology and psychology uniquely predispose adolescents to develop depression.

Adolescents are the most chronically sleep-restricted subpopulation across human development (teens sleep too late and too little).

The cumulative frequency of depression is 20% by the end of adolescence – and Female adolescents are twice as likely as male adolescents to experience depression.

An optimal sleep period is 9.0–9.3 hours per night across adolescence.

Adolescents do not fully recover after two consecutive days of recovery sleep (as measured by tests of sustained attention). Moreover, sleeping in on weekends might exacerbate circadian delay in adolescents because they will lose the resetting benefits of morning bright light. Weekend sleep-ins can therefore lead to further difficulty falling asleep on Sunday night and waking on Monday morning.

Meta-analysis of prospective and experimental data suggests a greater tendency for poor sleep to lead to depression in adolescents than the other way around.

Multiple studies find large effects of insufficient sleep on the ability of adolescents to experience positive affective states, such as happiness, enthusiasm and excitement.

There is evidence for lower melatonin amplitude in depressed individuals, which means that melatonin levels do not rise or decline sufficiently to regulate the alternation of sleepiness and wakefulness during the day and night. Moreover, melatonin secretion might be delayed in adolescents or even unsynchronized with other circadian processes (such as cortisol levels and body temperature) that regulate the sleep–wake cycle.

Alterations in circadian processes affect the sleep regulation and the daily variations in energy levels, alertness and mood. 

What to do about the problem?

Bright light, physical activity and connectedness with people are closely related to a positive mood.

Most effective solutions = bright morning light exposure; increased melatonin amplitude; improved sleep hygiene (pre-sleep cognition, dark/cool/quiet bedroom and comfortable bedding).

All of these points highlight the importance of maximizing sleep quality – and increase my excitement even more for what we’re doing tomorrow.

For more on the link between sleep and depression, check out this blog post on ways to help yourself or someone else with depression. In it, I share my favorite strategy for getting quality sleep—and it’s not what you’d expect!

Download PDF here

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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