Increased screen time and sleep loss leads to mood swings in teens

Study emphasizes prevention and early intervention for mood changes due to extended screen time use

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Sleep patterns around the world have been disrupted as screen time increases and sleep routines change with COVID-19 self-isolation requirements. Negative mood is not unusual in adolescence, but lack of sleep can affect mental health, causing anhedonia (or loss of pleasure), anxiety, anger and significantly increasing the risk of depression, a global study of more than 350,000 teens shows. The results published in Sleep Medicine Reviews connects less sleep with a 55% increased chance of mood deficits and double the risk of reduced positive mood.

From Asia, to Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America, sleep clearly was a modifiable risk factor that can improve or depress mood in adolescents, says Flinders University sleep researcher Dr Michelle Short. "Sleep duration significantly predicts mood deficits on all mood states, including increased depression, anxiety, anger, negative affect and reduced positive affect," she says, with less sleep linked to an 83% higher chance or anger, 62% increased risk of depressed mood, and 41% higher risk of anxiety.

"Fortunately, there are many interventions individuals, family, the community and even public policy can encourage to maintain regular sleep in this at-risk population to reduce the likelihood of these problems spilling over into mental health issues needing clinical treatment," she says.

The researchers also recommend increased parental / guardian regulation of sleep and technology use, delayed school starting times, and monitoring academic and other pressures such as out-of-hours tutoring does not impede sleep routine. Dr Short says that "while positive mood doesn't get much attention, it is still clinically relevant as one of the key symptoms of depression in anhedonia (loss of pleasure). It is imperative that greater focus is given to sleep as for prevention and early intervention for mood deficits," the study concludes.

Read this article on Science Daily: Flinders University. "'Loss of pleasure' found in teen sleep study: But easy interventions can improve mental health." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 May 2020.

Dr. Holland's Perspective

It’s important to remember that while teenagers are individuals with unique personalities with their own opinions, likes and dislikes, some things are constant. No matter how much your teen seems to withdraw emotionally, or insist on being independent, or even how troubled your teen becomes, they still need your attention and to feel loved by you.

It is normal for teens to experience physical and environmental changes that lead to mood swings, irritable behavior, and struggle to manage their emotions. There are many ways you can help your teen find healthy outlets to relieve anger. Exercise is especially effective: running, biking, climbing or even dancing, walking or doing push-ups can help. Even simply hitting a punch bag or a pillow can help relieve tension and anger. Some teens respond really well to the use of art or writing to creatively express their anger.

Regardless of the reason behind your teen’s problems, you can help to put balance back in their life by helping them make healthy lifestyle choices and offering reassurance that they are not alone in their struggles. Contact Dr. Holland for more information and for help, or call 707-479-2946 to schedule a telehealth video therapy session.