Lack of sleep linked to teen addiction

Researchers said that staying up late into the night to play on cell phones and tablets has been found to affect the area of the brain that plays a role in goal-oriented actions and learning from rewards.

Teens who do not get enough sleep are at higher risk for depression and addiction, a new study finds. Chronic sleep deprivation is common among both adults and teens and can be as easy as staying up late and waking up early for school or work.

The study suggests that if this sleep deprivation is prolonged it can increase a teen’s willingness to partake in risky behavior and lead to addiction. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh studied 35 teens and found that those who were sleep deprived responded less to incentives and rewards

The study from the University of Pittsburgh tested 35 participants aged 11.5 to 15 years old in a sleep lab for two nights. Half of the participants slept for 10 hours while the other half slept for only four.


A study from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) said following simple yet effective advice can help improve sleeping habits.

They include:

  • Sticking to a regular sleep schedule – even at the weekend
  • Practicing a relaxing bedtime ritual
  • Exercising daily
  • Switching off all technology some time before going to bed

The groups then came back a week later but on opposite sleep schedules from the initial visit. At each visit, the participants brains were scanned while playing a game that involved receiving a reward of $10 and one dollar.

Then at the end of the two-day period they answered questions that measured their emotional functions and looked for symptoms of depression. The researchers found that sleep deprivation affected the putamen, the area of the brain that affects goals and reward learning.

When the teen was received 10 hours, the brain region showed a consistency between high and low reward conditions, meaning clearer judgement. However, when participants were sleep-deprived with only four hours, the putamen was less responsive to rewards.

The same result was seen in sleep-deprived teens when the reward was increased to $10. The results suggest that sleep deprivation in the tween and teen years may interfere with how the brain processes rewards.

The brain’s lack of response is a sign of disinterest to rewards and incentives triggered by sleep deprivation. The researchers also found connections between sleep restriction and mood.

After a night of restricted sleep, the participants who experienced less activity in the putamen also reported more symptoms of depression after the psychological evaluations. This is consistent with findings, from a large literature of studies on depression and reward circuitry, that depression is characterized by less activity in the brain’s reward system.

The results suggest that sleep deprivation in teen years may interfere with how the brain processes rewards affecting judgement, as well as which disrupting mood which can put a person at risk of depression.

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