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The Critical Connection between Teens’ Sleep and Mental Health

Getting enough quality sleep plays a pivotal role in the health and well-being of teens.  It’s strongly tied to and impacts their mental health.

Healthy sleep is linked to improved emotional functioning in teens, which can help manage anxiety, depression, and reported stress among those who get sufficient sleep. For example, NSF’s 2024 Sleep in America® Poll found that teens who get the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep each night have lower levels of depressive symptoms. It could be these positive effects are partly due to the role sleep plays in regulating emotions and maintaining a stable mood. On the other hand, regularly disrupted sleep is associated with more mood swings, irritability, and increased emotional reactivity. In fact, the same NSF study showed that nearly seven out of ten teens who are dissatisfied with their sleep also reported elevated depressive symptoms.  Adequate sleep is key to building emotional resilience, and it can help teens more effectively work though some of the challenges they can experience during adolescence. When people sleep poorly, they are more likely to interpret the world around them in a negative light. With regular, sufficient, and healthy sleep, we have a more positive outlook. This benefit of sleep could help teens avoid an overload of negative emotions during the day.

Beyond its impact on emotional well-being, healthy sleep is crucial for cognitive functioning and academic performance in teenagers. Teens who consistently get enough sleep are better equipped to concentrate, retain information, and excel in school. However, insufficient sleep may lead to difficulties in problem-solving, decision-making, and overall cognitive abilities, which can negatively impact a teen’s academic success and long-term mental well-being.

Getting enough quality sleep also helps teens cope with the stress of their evolving physical, social, and emotional worlds. During deep sleep, the brain regulates stress hormones such as cortisol. Teens who consistently get enough sleep (NSF recommends 8-10 hours each night) can be better equipped to cope with stressors and have less risk of developing chronic stress-related mental health issues. What’s troubling is the vast majority of teens, 80% in a recent NSF poll, are not getting enough sleep.

During adolescence, teens are also navigating new behaviors that require decision-making skills and impulse control. Healthy sleep contributes to improved behavior in teens, leading to fewer accidents, reduced substance use, fewer reckless behaviors, and a lower risk of other health problems.

Promoting sleep health early with teens is worth it. It’s a positive step to help them feel better, be safer, perform better, cope more effectively, and choose healthier behaviors that can set them up for success over the long-term.