High school seniors with excessive daytime sleepiness have an elevated risk for depression, suggests a recently presented research abstract.

Results of the research abstract presented at SLEEP 2010 indicate that high school seniors were three times more likely to have strong depression symptoms (odds ratio = 3.04) if they had excessive daytime sleepiness; 52% of participants (136 students) had excessive daytime sleepiness, 30% (80 students) had strong depression symptoms, and 32% (82 students) had some symptoms of depression.

"It was surprising to see such a large prevalence of high school students facing strong depression and some depressive symptoms," said principal investigator Dr Mahmood I. Siddique, clinical associate professor of medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, NJ. "We need to target this population for appropriate diagnosis and treatment for both depression and sleep disorders."

The study also found that sleep deprivation was common among high school seniors. Students reported a mean total sleep time on school nights of only 6.1 hours and an increased sleep time of 8.2 hours on weekend nights. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that high school students need a little more than 9 hours of nightly sleep to maintain sufficient alertness during the day.

"The fact that high school students are also considerably sleep deprived is important," said Siddique. "Many students may be performing suboptimally as far as academic performance goes, as depression and sleep deprivation are known to affect concentration and memory."

He added that this suboptimal performance resulting from sleep problems and depression may be overlooked as a contributing factor in the decline of US competitiveness in the global marketplace.

"The implication of this is that policy makers should devote more resources to the individual mental well-being of high school students rather than focusing all their attention on perceived systemic deficits such as better quality teachers and school infrastructure," said Siddique. "Regular sleep and depression screening should be encouraged in public high schools."