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More Sleep Could Help Support Youth Mental Wellness: Study

Young woman wearing pajamas

Could more sleep be key to improving youth mental health? While it is difficult to tackle this question on one solution alone, the results of a recent sleep challenge survey suggests it might be a great place to start.

The survey, which looked at the sleep of 885 middle and high school students, found that an overwhelming 97 per cent of students got less than the recommended nine hours of sleep per night.

Related: Want better sleep? Start looking at what you eat: study.

While we already know that sleep allows for the body and brain to replenish (hence why you may sometimes go to bed feeling awful and waking up feeling like a whole new person), the survey’s conductor, integrative mental health expert Dr. Kathleen Mackenzie, suggests in Psychology Today that the long-term effects of sleep deprivation could have significant impacts on youth — and that focusing on improving youth sleep could help alleviate the mental health crisis many young people are experiencing.

Related: Poor sleep linked to mental illness, large-scale study says.

Is sleep deprivation the root of the problem?

The survey suggests that nearly 60 per cent of students reported getting on average six or less hours of sleep a night, plummeting the clinical range considered for sleep deprivation — placing many in what is referred to as “sleep debt.”

Put simply, sleep debt works as follows: If someone who is required to get eight hours of sleep a night only gets six, over the span of a week this person would have accumulated a total of 14-hour sleep debt. Sleep debt has been closely linked to a higher risk of specific mental and psychical conditions such as diabetes and anxiety.

In another recent study — one of the largest to date on the topic — researchers analyzed nearly 90,000 subjects, and the findings revealed inconsistent sleep patterns are a high risk factor of those with a lifetime mental illness.

Related: Sleeping with even a little ambient light could harm your health: study


How can we improve youth sleep patterns?

Sleep appears to be the key to success for youth (and us all), and according to Dr. Mackenzie’s article, restricting children’s access to electronics at night is the first place to start.

Once we have moved in the right direction to end this crisis (and everyone is caught up on sleep), systemic changes that respect the developmental needs of youth mental health could be the next step — giving less homework so children have time to get to bed at a reasonable hour or more time to do this homework in class.

While sleep may not be the only remedy, it could be a key step on the journey to success.

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