A TEEN’S TAKE
“Mood swings are probably one of the worst parts of being a teenager. Sometimes you feel yourself just being pissed off for no apparent reason. Then you can be laughing with your friend on the phone and the next minute you hear a song that reminds you of something sad and suddenly you’re in a terrible mood. It sucks, but you just can’t control it.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, adolescents who have sleep problems report increased negative moods and/or trouble regulating their moods. And looking at it from the opposite direction, adolescents with clinical mood disorders report high rates of sleep disturbances. While stress may contribute to sleep problems and emotional volatility (see below), there is solid evidence that sleep loss and irregular sleep patterns can make teens irritable and moody.
Stress can make teens’ lives very difficult indeed. For example, they might surprise themselves—and everyone around them—by getting angry over a situation that, when they’re well rested, they might shrug off. Or they might become aggressive when they’re driving because they get excessively irritated when another driver cuts in front of them. A sad scene in a movie might make them unhappy and down for hours. And a disagreement with a friend could easily turn into a major blowup. A study using a standard measure of moods, called the Profile of Mood States, showed that restricted sleep time adversely affects all aspects of mood, from anxiety to dejection to anger to vigor to inertia to confusion.
Why can sleepy teens feel not only out of sync but also out of sorts? Sleep loss alters the activity of neurotransmitters produced in the brain that regulate emotions. With these changes, we feel emotions more intensely and have greater trouble coping with them. And that can lead to even more difficult and serious conditions. Kids who can’t control their emotions might feel there’s something really wrong with them and become depressed and even suicidal (see Chapter 11 for more on the link between sleep loss and clinical depression). Or they might turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to lessen the strong feelings they’re experiencing. They might be too upset or angry and disruptive to do well in school. And any form of emotional upheaval they