When I was a teenager, my mother used to say, "Nothing good happens after midnight." While she said this to underscore the likelihood of teenagers (like me, at the time) getting into trouble late at night (she was right, by the way) little did she know that there are mental health consequences for teens who consistently go to bed late.
Teens whose parents let them stay up after midnight on weeknights have a much higher chance of being depressed or suicidal than teens whose parents enforce an earlier bedtime, says research presented at a national sleep conference.
The findings are the first to examine bedtimes' effects on kids' mental health — and the results are noteworthy. Middle- and high-schoolers whose parents don't require them to be in bed before midnight on school nights are 42% more likely to be depressed than teens whose parents require a 10 p.m. or earlier bedtime. And teens who are allowed to stay up late are 30% more likely to have had suicidal thoughts in the past year.
A team led by Columbia University Medical Center researcher James Gangwisch examined surveys from 15,659 teens and their parents who took part in a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study of adolescent health. Previous research has established a firm connection between teens getting less sleep and feeling depressed or suicidal.
The lesson for parents is simple, Gangwisch says: Try as much as possible to sell teenagers on the importance of getting enough sleep — even if it seems that they don't need as much as younger children (actually, they need as much — about nine hours — but usually get only 7½ hours or so, according to the NIH).