Self-esteem & sleep: Need for perfection, negative thoughts keep teens awake at night

ADELAIDE, Australia — The years between 12 and 20 are a period of self-discovery and self-doubt for the average teen. It’s hard not to compare oneself to others in high school, especially in today’s day and age of Instagram and selfies. Now, a new study conducted at Flinders University finds that teenagers experience insomnia most often due to persistent negative thoughts and a need to achieve perfection.

Making matters worse is the fact that a lack of sleep usually contributes to depression and anxiety symptoms, creating a vicious cycle of comparison, low self-esteem, and negativity.

Close to 400 adolescents between the ages of 14 and 20 took part in this online study, and researchers say their findings validate the theory that there is a link between constant negative thoughts and trouble falling asleep. Perfectionism was found to make this phenomenon even worse.

“Repetitive negative thinking is habit forming and it can significantly contribute to making sleep difficult and causing depressed mood in teenagers, who already like to stay up late at night,” comments Professor Michael Gradisar, director of the Child and Adolescent Sleep Clinic at Flinders University, in a release. “This study supports the need to recognize repetitive negative thinking in preventing and treating sleep problems, along with individual differences in perfectionism and mood.”

The research team believe their work has big clinical implications regarding how to address insomnia issues among teens, as well as how to design future depression treatments for adolescents.

Going off of prior international research projects, it is estimated that about 3-8% of adolescents deal with recurring depressive symptoms. Unfortunately, in many cases, those symptoms persist and worsen well into adulthood.

Besides just sleep problems, depression in a teenager can cause concentration issues in the classroom, a loss of interest in both academic and extracurricular activities, social isolation, and suicide in extreme scenarios.

Professor Gradisar strongly believes that attaining a regular sleep schedule can greatly help teens avoid depression. As far as parents and guardians, he recommends that regular bedtime routines be introduced and perhaps even a ban on mobile phone use past a certain hour of the evening. He believes that modern teens today are more susceptible than ever before to depression and insomnia due to busy lifestyles and excessive screen time.

The study is published in Sleep Health.

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