Poor sleeping habits during adolescence may lead to depression

OTTAWA, Ontario — Good sleep is an essential component in good health, especially while you’re growing up. For adolescents, a new study finds poor sleeping habits may ultimately lead to depression. Researchers at the University of Ottawa say restless nights can be be a gateway to poor mental health for young boys and girls.

Researchers examined 80 adolescent and adult mice (40 males and 40 females) during their study. The team interrupted some of the animal’s sleep during the first four hours of every rest cycle. Study authors allowed the rest of the mice to have normal rest during the eight-day experiment. Researchers then exposed the animals to a stressful situation to look further into depression symptoms.

“Our results showed that adolescent male and female mice both displayed significantly greater depressive behavior after only 7 days of sleep delays while adult male and female mice did not show depressive behavior under similar conditions,” says senior author Nafissa Ismail in a university release.

After seven days of continuous sleep disruption, the results reveal adolescent mice experienced increased activity in the prelimbic cortex of the brain. This activity did not occur with adults. The prelimbic cortex has a connection to stress coping strategies and can suffer from overstimulation due to sleep loss.

“Twice as many females as males are currently diagnosed with depression,” Ismail adds. “Preliminary evidence suggests that Canadians are experiencing greater depressive symptoms this year, likely as a result of lifestyle changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

COVID’s impact on depression and sleep schedules

As a result of COVID-19, the researcher believes there has likely been an increase in depression cases among Canadians. Currently, there are over 264 million people who suffer from depression worldwide. For adults who struggle with depression, the study authors say these patients likely deal with their first symptoms of the condition during childhood.

The Canadian team admits they’re still looking into why this impacts young females more than their male counterparts. They suspect females have an increased vulnerability to chronic stress compared to young males.

As millions remain at home during the coronavirus pandemic, study authors warn that parents need to stay vigilant that children are still observing normal bedtimes. This isn’t just to maintain the day-to-day routine, but to help them get the rest their mental health requires too.

“As COVID-19 quarantine requirements – such as remote learning, limited in-person social interactions and increased screen time – have removed some pressure to adhere to regular sleep schedules, adolescents could be at a higher risk than ever before for developing depression and other mood disorders.”

The study is published in the journal Behavioral Brain Research

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