Sleep-wake therapy offers new hope for teenagers, study says


This picture shows a girl sleeping in her bed. — Unsplash/File
This picture shows a girl sleeping in her bed. — Unsplash/File

Sleep can be a lifeline for teens, especially the ones battling depression who often lose sleep or have irregular sleep patterns that ultimately affect their physical and intellectual health.

The study suggests that promoting proper sleep patterns in teenagers can aid their educational needs, particularly in the case of “night owls,” who tend to sleep late and wake up late, which may contribute to their higher likelihood of depression in school systems.

Recently, researchers at UC San Francisco have discovered a method to help adolescents with depression adjust to their natural sleep-cycle rhythms while maintaining school responsibilities.

While 40% of teens overall report being night owls, in those with depression, 80% report late-night sleep patterns, the study suggested.

The current intervention aimed to help night owls sleep later while gradually training them to fall asleep earlier by structuring their daily routines.

Lauren Asarnow, PhD, a clinical psychologist with UCSF Health who specialises in sleep health, said: “A big finding here is that there is a subgroup of teens for whom treating sleep is particularly important for improving depression symptoms.

“And the other big finding is that they really need to be able to live a life that is more in line with their sleep-wake biology.”

It’s not you, it’s biology

The study which was published in August in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, analysed data from 42 participants with clinical depression who had been part of a larger study of 176 night-owl adolescents, Hindustan Times reported.

Out of the 42 participants, 24 adolescents underwent the Transdiagnostic Sleep and Circadian Intervention (TransS-C), while 18 received educational sessions on healthy lifestyles.

They maintained sleep diaries, wore sleep quality devices, and received weekly 45-minute therapy sessions for eight weeks.

At the beginning of the study, all of the teens scored at least 40 on the Children’s Depression Rating Scale, indicating clinically significant depression. A score of 28 or lower indicates remission.

Six months after treatment, the intervention group’s average score fell to 21.67, compared to 32.5 for the healthy lifestyle intervention group. At 12 months, the intervention group scored 24.97, compared to 32.75 for controls.

Another study on depression that has since been funded at a larger scale by the National Institute of Mental Health will enrol 200 Bay Area teens this fall.

The study reveals that 3 million adolescents experience at least one major depressive episode annually, with 40% not responding to treatment.

It also suggests that teens with later sleep and wake times are at higher risk for recurrent depression, severe depression, suicidality, and poor antidepressant response.

“There is a saying in our psychology and psychiatry clinics that the best treatment for depression and anxiety is summer break,” Asarnow said. “We need to stop calling these kids ‘lazy.’ A lot of the time it is just their biology. It’s not their fault.”

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