Research projects

Chronic sleep loss, depression and anxiety in adolescent males

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Principal researchers

Dr Sarah Blunden1
Prof Tim Olds 2
Dr Siobhan Banks 3
Dr Amelia Searle 4

Institution

1 Central Queensland University Appleton Institute
2 School of Health Sciences, University of South Australia
3 Centre for Sleep Research, University of South Australia
4 School of Psychology, University of Adelaide

Funding

$84,000

Co-funded with

Central Queensland University (in-kind)

Award type

beyondblue National Priority Driven Research Program

Project completion year

2015

Project brief

Main Messages

During adolescence, physiological and psychosocial factors delay sleep patterns so bedtimes are later, but wake times remain the same due to school attendance. Lost sleep is often recuperated on weekend and holidays (called yo-yo sleeping) but it is unclear if this sleep loss is recuperated enough or if it accumulates over the term. With a simultaneous increase of mood problems during adolescents, the researchers wanted to assess if sleep loss increased over an entire school term and if this sleep loss was associated with changes to mood status. So they recruited 48 healthy adolescent males, aged of 15.57 (SD =.86y) and objectively measured their sleep every night for 80 days and gathered self-report mood data every week.

The main messages from the study are:

  • Adolescents sleep significantly less during the school week compared to school holidays and weekends and a lot less than sleep guidelines. Despite this, sleep loss did not accumulate over the school term seemingly prevented by weekend catch-up sleep.
  • How much they slept did not impact depression, anxiety or stress. However, the degree of variability from night to night, or from school day to non-school day was significantly related to depression and stress.
  • Adolescents appear to cope with less than recommended sleep but sleep variability, which is very common in adolescents, is the main contributor to mood.

Managing these variable sleep schedules and thus their mood could be minimised by:

  • Increasing awareness, through sleep education in schools, of the negative impact on mood of variable sleep
  • Teaching adolescents methods of minimising these variations, for example, by keeping weekend wake times similar to those in the week or by
  • Selectively delaying school start times for adolescents at risk

This snapshot of adolescent male sleep helps us understand the relationship between sleep and mood. As sleep is modifiable, so too is its contribution to mood giving another avenues to improve mood status in young males.

This study will ask the question: How much does cumulative sleep loss across a school term affect depression and anxiety in adolescent males?

The study will use a longitudinal, within subjects design to determine the changes in sleep and relationships with changes in mental health (depression, anxiety and stress) from the start of a school term (i.e., baseline) to the end of term, and to evaluate the strength of the relationship between these changes in sleep and in mental health. A cohort of adolescent males will be monitored for 12 weeks during a school term and the following holiday period.

This study will be the first to examine the effects of longer-term sleep loss (in both quality and quantity) on adolescent males’ mental health across the course of a school term. The main aim is to determine the impact of changes in sleep quantity and quality on adolescent mental health and well-being over the course of a school term. 

If sleep deficits across the school term are found to be a predictor of mental health status in adolescents and, further, if cumulative sleep deficits are found to be related to increases in mental health problems, then results from this study could be used to develop targeted sleep intervention programs (trials of which are currently underway with members of this research team) and/or clinic-based intervention programs that aim to improve adolescents’ sleep and mental health or even avoid them in the first place. Sleep is a modifiable behaviour and so has the potential to be a major component of improving adolescent mental health within intervention programs.

Download the final report.

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