Sleep-deprived, sedentary teens who overuse media at higher risk for serious mental health issues

The Time “Healthland” blog reports that according to a study published in the journal World Psychiatry, “teens who use tons of media, don’t get enough sleep, and have a sedentary lifestyle” may have a higher risk for serious mental health issues, including depression.

Researchers arrived at that conclusion after surveying “12,395 students between the ages of 14 and 16 from 11 European countries,” then analyzing “nine risk behaviors: excessive alcohol use, illegal drug use, heavy smoking, reduced sleep, being overweight, being underweight, having a sedentary routine, high media use and truancy.”

The findings caught the researchers off guard. But, they aren’t the only ones to raise concerns about the confluence of too little sleep, too much media use, and too little exercise. In a piece published last month on the New York Times Motherlode blog, writer and educator Jessica Lahey made the case that teens need at least nine hours of sleep a night, but often get only about seven.

To turn that around, she suggested, parents can take a number of steps, including making sure that their kids keep electronics out of the bedroom. “Laptops, smartphones and tablets emit approximately 30 to 50 lux, about half the illumination of a room light, more than enough light to affect circadian rhythms and delay the production and release of melatonin,” she noted.

Lahey also encouraged exercise, explaining that people who work out for three or four 30-minute sessions a week sleep 45 minutes to an hour longer on most nights.

One of the most significant things about his study is that it provides new early-warning signs for parents, teachers, and mental health-care providers. And early identification, support and treatment for mental health issues, he says, are the best ways to keep them from turning into full-blown disorders.

“It is likely that adults won’t see these (three) behaviors as risky or as reason for alarm,” he says. “But the truth is, they are. It doesn’t mean that every teenager who doesn’t get enough sleep or plays too many video games is at risk. But it is something we need to pay close attention to.”

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