By CAROLINE ALPHONSO
Sleep deprivation can compromise learning, affect memory and cause irritability among schoolchildren. Now, a new study shows that it can take yet another toll on students -- depression and low self-esteem.
Middle-school students who get fewer hours of sleep because of homework or other distractions should be of concern to parents and teachers because of the "psychosocial" consequences, Jean Rhodes, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, said yesterday.
"When you have had one of those nights where you stayed up late and got up early, you don't feel as good about yourself. Everything looks a little bit less appealing," Dr. Rhodes said. Adolescents should ideally get nine hours of sleep a night, some studies have shown.
But Dr. Rhodes found that those aged 11 to 14 were getting about seven hours or less, especially because they spent more time on the computer doing homework and e-mailing friends.
"Elevated levels of depression and drops in self-esteem are seen as inevitable hallmarks of adolescence," Dr. Rhodes said. "Yet these results suggest that such changes are partially linked to a variable -- sleep -- that is largely under individual, parental and even school control."
In her study, published in the journal Child Development, Dr. Rhodes followed approximately 2,200 Illinois pupils over a thee-year period from Grades 6 to 8. Students answered multiple-choice surveys on the number of hours they slept each night, as well their mood, what they thought of their physical appearance and their school grades. From the data collected, Dr. Rhodes concluded that less sleep is a factor in low self-esteem and feelings of depression. Girls, she said, had a harder time than boys in getting enough sleep.
Students who got less sleep in the sixth grade showed signs of low self-esteem and symptoms of depression. Similarly, students who received less sleep over the three-year period reported heightened levels of depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem, the study stated.
In an interview yesterday, Dr. Rhodes said adolescents need as much sleep as elementary schoolchildren because their bodies are going through a variety of changes and they're sleeping much lighter as they get older.
Officials at middle and high schools should consider starting the school day later in the morning, so that students can catch more hours under the covers. Also, parents should set earlier bedtimes for their children, Dr. Rhodes said.
"We need to think about sleep as a public-health issue the same way we think about drug and alcohol prevention, buckling up [seat belts] and all those other things. Sleep is something that affects mental health and we need to think about it that way," she said.
Colin Shapiro, director of the Sleep and Alertness Clinic at Toronto Western Hospital, agrees that schools should start later in the morning, especially for teenagers. They need more sleep over time because their bodies are changing and many are balancing part-time jobs along with school.
Dr. Shapiro said this study, along with others, show that sleep duration has more of an impact than people appreciate. Studies have shown that school performance is linked to sleep, Dr. Shapiro said. "What this study is saying is that it doesn't only affect your performance . . . but now it's having an effect on your mood and self-esteem," he said.