Lack of sleep is a growing problem among teenagers, with electronic devices and social media to blame, as prior research has suggested. Aside from insomnia, however, researchers have found other potential long-term consequences for teenagers.
A new study, published by the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, suggest that chronic sleep deprivation in teens may increase the risk of developing a mood disorder later on in life.
Peter Franzen and Erika Forbes, both researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, studied 35 participants for two nights; they were aged between 11 to 15. Researchers instructed half of the participants to a 10-hour sleep schedule. Meanwhile, the other half only had four hours of sleep. One week later, all participants returned to the sleep laboratory for an additional two nights, although they were given their counterpart’s sleep schedule.
During observation, researchers conducted brain scans and gave participants a questionnaire to rate their emotional functioning, along with any affective symptoms.
Additionally, participants took part in a game involving receiving monetary rewards of $10 and $1, based on the findings.
It was discovered that lack of sleep affected the putamen, an area of the brain responsible for ‘learning from rewards’ and ‘goal-based movements,’ located in the forebrain.
“When participants were sleep-deprived, and the reward in the game they played was larger, the putamen was less responsive. In the rested condition, the brain region didn’t show any difference between high and low-reward conditions,” the study found.
Moreover, associations between sleep deprivation and mood were also found by researchers.
“After a night of restricted sleep, the participants who experienced less activation in the putamen also reported more symptoms of depression. This is consistent with findings, from a large literature of studies on depression and reward circuitry, that depression is characterized by less activity in the brain’s reward system.”
The findings concluded that lack of sleep in pre-teen and teenage years might affect the brain’s process for rewards and could, therefore, destabilize one’s mood. Mood-related problems at an early age would increase the risk of developing a depressive disorder later on in adulthood, in addition to impulsive or addiction-related disorders.