We know all about it--our teens often have come crazy sleeping habits, the likes of which we've not seen since they were babies. Now research led by the University of Ottawa found that chronic sleep disruption during adolescence can put females and males at higher risk rates for depression.

The research was published in the journal Behavioral Brain Research. Considering the COVID pandemic has already put adolescent mental health under duress, the findings are important to helping mitigate the effects on teens, and their depression risks.

Nafissa Ismail is an Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa School of Psychology and a University Research Chair in Stress and Mental Health. Ismail is also the senior author of the study and said that depression is a prevalent mood disorder that reduces the quality of life. Over 264 million people around the world suffer from depression, according to Ismail and twice as many women as men are currently diagnosed with depression.

Global preliminary research suggests that there are greater depressive symptoms this year as the result of COVID-19 pandemic lifestyle changes.

The research looked at sleep disruption as a common stressor of adolescent depression, and the researchers looked at how repeated sleep disruption exposure could be responsible for adolescent susceptibility to depression.

The team used mice and looked at how repeated sleep delays affected males and females, as well as how their stress levels changed with various manual disruptions.

What they found was that in both male and female adolescent mice, there were significantly greater depressive symptoms and behavior after only a week of sleep delay manipulations. This was NOT true for adult male and female mice in similar conditions.

When the mice were exposed to new stressors after a week of repeated sleep delays, again, it was only the adolescent male and female mice that showed any change in their brain. They showed increased activity in the prelimbic cortex of their brains. This part of the brain is associated with one's stress coping skills, and overactivation following sleep deprivation can damage it.

The effects were greater in adolescent female mice than in males.

What this means is that when teens experience sleep delays (erratic schedules/bedtimes/exposure to blue light from screens before bed), they may be more likely to experience the onset of depression. Additionally, sleep deprivation or delays and interruptions leading to possible depression may be more occurrent in female teens than in males.

Now, more than ever, it's important we help our teens maintain regular sleep schedules and fewer delays as best we can. with remote learning and limited in-person social opportunities, teens may be less likely to follow consistent sleeping schedules and may have more sleep disruptions. This may put them at a higher risk for depression than ever before when you figure in the already increased risks due to the stress of quarantine conditions.

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