Teens’ Chronic Negative Thinking Can Lead to Sleep Deprivation, Depression

New research suggests that rumination or persistent negative thinking associated with perfectionism can keep teenagers awake at night and increase their chance of becoming depressed and anxious.

Australian researchers performed an online study of almost 400 adolescents aged 14 to 20 years that assessed difficulty initiating sleep, repetitive negative thinking, perfectionism, and depressed mood.

Investigators found that repetitive negative thinking is significantly associated with both difficulty initiating sleep and depressed mood. This finding supports the conceptualization of repetitive negative thinking as a mechanism or risk factor for depression and anxiety.

Furthermore, individual differences in perfectionism may amplify the relationship between repetitive negative thinking and mood. Ironically, the desire to perform well is school is often driven by the belief that better school performance is associated with being more successful in life.

And, in some ways, this thinking is logical; a strong drive for excellence is often rewarded with good grades and high scores. The higher scholastic achievement allow teens to earn their way into honors and advanced placement courses, and those classes prepare them for college. The problem, however, is that constantly striving for perfection tends to backfire — especially with teens.

Sleep researchers at Flinders University believe the finding will stimulate professionals to recommend alternative treatments for repetitive negative thinking and perfectionism in dealing with delayed sleep and mental health problems among teenagers.

Professor Michael Gradisar, director of the Child and Adolescent Sleep Clinic at Flinders University, said the study confirmed a link between repeated negative thinking and delayed sleep. This was exacerbated in respondents with perfectionist tendencies.

“Repetitive negative thinking is habit forming and it can significantly contribute to making sleep difficult and causing depressed mood in teenagers, who already like to stay up late at night,” Gradisar said.

“This study supports the need to recognize repetitive negative thinking in preventing and treating sleep problems, along with individual differences in perfectionism and mood.”

International studies indicate depression affects between 3 percent and 8 percent of adolescents. It is often recurring and may continue to develop into more severe depressive disorders during adulthood.

In teenagers, depression can cause poor concentration, a loss of interest in schoolwork, difficulties in peer relationships, and even suicide.

Gradisar stressed that sleep plays an important part in preventing and treating depression in teenagers.

He said parents and caregivers can implement better sleep health by encouraging regular bedtime routines during the school week and weekends, and turning off mobile phones earlier in the evening.

Gradisar said busy lifestyles, stress and screen time makes self-help and accessible resources for better sleep increasingly important.

Source: Flinders University/EurekAlert

Related Articles