Parents of teenagers may be surprised to learn that, despite the occasional disagreement, two-thirds of teens go to bed when they are supposed to. A recent study of over 15,000 students in grades 7 through 12 shows that early bedtimes are worth parental perseverance: researchers at Columbia University found that adolescents with a bedtime of midnight or later were 24% more likely to be depressed and 20% more likely to have thoughts of suicide than those with a strict 10 p.m. lights out.

While it has long been accepted that teenagers need about 9 hours of sleep per night for optimal health and development, survey participants reported average sleep duration of only 7 hours and 53 minutes. Researchers found that later bedtimes were associated with shorter sleep duration and the perception of getting inadequate sleep. Over time, partial sleep deprivation can result in impaired judgment, concentration, and impulse control as well as moodiness. All of these factors can contribute to difficulty reacting appropriately to stressful life circumstances as well as trouble maintaining supportive relationships with parents and peers. The deterioration of these relationships has been shown to be associated with depression.

While sleep difficulties are usually seen as a symptom of depression rather than as the cause, this study indicates that short sleep duration could indeed play a role in causing depression. Earlier set bedtimes help lengthen sleep duration, which could be protective against adolescent depression and thoughts of suicide. Parents are paramount in helping their children develop healthy habits, and emphasizing the importance of a reasonable bedtime is just one way to have a positive impact.

The full text of the study, “Earlier Parental Set Bedtimes as a Protective Factor Against Depression and Suicidal Ideation,” is available on the website of the journal Sleep.

– Alicia B. Johnston, Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer