Research from the University of Adelaide is providing interesting new insight on the effects of teenage dreams, or lack thereof, on mental health. The study, published in journal Sleep Medicine, observed high school students with insomnia and found a significant link between adolescents who had trouble sleeping and an increased possibility of depression and anxiety.

Observing Sleeping Patterns of Teens

Researchers noted that 11% of teenagers in most countries suffer from insomnia at some point in their adolescence. With this in mind, they assessed over 300 Australian students between the ages of 12 and 18 years old. The students were surveyed based on sleeping habits, mental health, and their "chronotypes," which describes the time of day people are most active.

The results showed that insomnia was independently linked with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and depression among the teens observed. Of those who reported being more active during the evening, researchers found an even higher likelihood of depression and/or insomnia, along with an increased chance of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, separation anxiety, and social phobia.

Anxiety and Insomnia: A Slippery Slope for Adolescents

"There is a growing awareness among the scientific community that insomnia, depression and anxiety disorders are linked with each other, and these disorders contain overlapping neurobiological, psychological, and social risk factors," notes Pasquale Alvaro, School of Psychology Ph.D. student and author of the study. He adds that insomnia can complicate and even worsen symptoms experienced from anxiety and/or depression, leading to possible drug and alcohol abuse.

Higher Risk for Night Owls

Alvaro highlights the link between evening chronotypes—those who are more active at night time—and a lack of sleep, suggesting that this trait is an independent risk factor for insomnia, depression and anxiety. "This is important because adolescents tend to develop a preference for evenings, which sometimes becomes a syndrome whereby they keep delaying going to sleep," he adds.

A Better Understanding for Treatment

Researchers are confident that their observations show the importance of considering sleep patterns and chronotypes for a better understanding of mental health. While the scientific community is growing increasingly aware of the relationship between insomnia and anxiety, the findings of this study provide a stepping stone towards more complete prevention and treatment efforts.

Date of original publication: .

Updated on November 10, 2015 .


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Pasquale K. Alvaro, Rachel M. Roberts, Jodie K. Harris. The independent relationships between insomnia, depression, subtypes of anxiety, and chronotype during adolescence. Sleep Medicine, 2014; 15 (8): 934 DOI:10.1016/j.sleep.2014.03.019