Sleep Problems DO Affect Teens’ Stress Response

Brand new research by Dr. Silvie Mrug and her colleagues  at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Arizona State University demonstrates what parents and teachers observe all the time: Teens who don’t get enough sleep—or high-quality sleep—are prone to react strongly to stressful situations. This, in turn, puts them at risk for academic, behavioral, and health problems over time.

In this study, 84 urban teenagers averaging 13 years old were given the Trier Social Stress Test to measure their physiological responses to stress. This involves asking them to compute mental math problems and speak in front of an audience. Saliva tests to determine the level of cortisol—a prominent stress hormone—were performed before and after to assess the effect of these exercises. Students and their parents were also questioned about their sleep habits.

Not surprisingly, these researchers found that teens who reported sleep problems (for example, needing multiple reminders to get up in the morning, feeling like they didn’t have a good night’s sleep, being tired or sleepy during the day, and being dissatisfied with their sleep) had a higher release of cortisol after the stressful lab test. Interestingly, those who, along with their parents, described longer sleep duration also had cortisol levels that spiked after stress. Psychologists believe that just because teens sleep more doesn’t mean they sleep well. In fact, it is likely they try to sleep longer to compensate for poorer-quality sleep.

The adverse effect of sleep problems on cortisol release was stronger in teenage girls than teenage boys.

Since it is estimated that 70% of teens don’t get the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night, these findings should prompt parents to foster good sleep hygiene, set limits on technology, and prioritize health over homework.



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