WEDNESDAY, JUNE 9 (Health.com) — Sleep-deprived high school students who doze off in class aren’t just risking the wrath of their teachers. They’re also three times more likely to be depressed than their alert classmates who get enough sleep, a new study has found.
“Sleep deprivation and depression go hand in hand among teenagers,” says the study’s lead author, Mahmood Siddique, DO, a sleep medicine specialist at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, in New Brunswick, N.J. “Instead of giving them medications, I’d rather give them a chance to sleep better, and more.”
Daytime sleepiness appears to be the new normal for adolescents. More than half of the 262 high school seniors who participated in the study were “excessively sleepy,” according to a commonly used scale that gauges how likely a person is to doze off during everyday activities such as reading, watching TV, or sitting in a traffic jam.
The students reported sleeping an average of about six hours on school nights and eight hours on the weekend, far less than the nine hours a night—at least—that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends for high school students.
The rate of depression among the students was very high. Thirty percent of the teens had strong symptoms of depression, while an additional 32% had some depression symptoms, according to the study, which was presented today in San Antonio at SLEEP 2010, an annual meeting of sleep researchers.
The students who were excessively sleepy during the day were three times more likely to have strong depression symptoms than their well-rested peers, Dr. Siddique and his colleagues found. However, it’s not clear from the study whether sleeping poorly is a symptom of depression, or vice versa.
“It makes sense that daytime sleepiness would be associated with depression,” says James Gangwisch, PhD, a psychotherapist and sleep specialist at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, in New York City. While the ill effects of depression on sleep are well known, he adds, mounting evidence suggests that sleep deprivation in and of itself can contribute to depression.