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Late bedtime ups depression risk
When parents set bedtimes, teens get more rest, and suffer less depression

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Date published: 2/14/2010

WHEN I was a teen, there were no computers, video games or cell phones, no e-mail, IM'ing or Facebook, no MySpace or texting. Cable TV was just being introduced.

I stayed up late sometimes reading or watching network TV--but usually that would put me to sleep. I couldn't be on the phone late at night because my mom would be sure to pick up and start listening in!

With all the distractions teens are subjected to today, its not surprising most don't get the nine hours of sleep nightly that is recommended.

Teens' natural circadian rhythms make them want to stay up and get up late, anyway, yet high schools start earlier than elementary schools in most areas. It would be more logical to get the kindergartners up at 6 a.m. to start school first, and let the teens snooze a little later.

During well checks and sports physicals on my adolescent patients, I always ask about how much sleep they are getting. Adequate sleep is associated with healthy growth hormone and cortisol levels, less obesity, better school performance and less accidents, among other benefits.

I encourage parents to restrict TV, computer and cell phone access before bedtime. But often, parents throw up their hands as if they have no control. Often, parents go to bed before their teens and don't realize what is going on--or maybe they just figure it's a battle they won't win. But remember: Who is usually paying for cable, Internet access and cell phone minutes?

A new study published last month in the journal Sleep suggests that parents have more power than they realize over this crucial issue.


The study is appropriately titled, "Earlier Parental Set Bedtimes as a Protective Factor Against Depression and Suicidal Ideation."

For the study, researchers surveyed over 15,000 teens and found that those with parentally set bedtimes of midnight or later were 24 percent more likely to be depressed and 20 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts than those whose parents set bedtimes of 10 p.m. or earlier.

What was amazing to me was that 69.7 percent of the students reported complying with the bedtimes their parents set. Two-thirds of those who didn't comply with their parents' wishes said they went to bed within an hour of the established bedtime.

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If you see signs of depression in your teen, get him or her help right away. Here are signs to watch for:

Ongoing sad, anxious or empty feelings

Feelings of hopelessness

Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness

Feeling irritable or restless

Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyable

Feeling tired all the time

Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, or difficulty making decisions

Not able to go to sleep or stay asleep (insomnia); the teen may wake in the middle of the night, or sleep all the time

Overeating or loss of appetite

Thoughts of suicide or making suicide attempts

Ongoing aches and pains, headaches, cramps

--Roxanne Allegretti

Roxanne Allegretti is a pediatrician with Preferred Pediatrics in Fredericksburg.