Adjusting to a new sleep schedule at the start of the school year can lead to troubled rest, daytime fatigue, and changes in mood and concentration in teens.
Although they need eight to 10 hours of sleep per night to maintain their physical health, emotional well-being and academic performance, according to the National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, most teens in sleep less than eight, especially on school nights.
Recently published research from RUSH in the journal SLEEP sheds light on how teenagers can get better shut-eye.
“There are a lot of changes that an adolescent goes through,” said Stephanie J. Crowley, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of the pediatric chronobiology and sleep research program at RUSH. “One is specifically a change in sleep biology that occurs during puberty.”
“The brain systems that control sleep are changing in such a way that it’s easier for a teenager to stay awake later in the evening. One of these systems – the 24-hour circadian clock – is shifting later in the evening. time,” Crowley said.
So there are two competing forces: one to go to bed earlier for the school schedule and the other a biological change that naturally occurs in a teenager’s body.
Because of this complex conflict, RUSH researchers set out to test a two-week intervention that targets the circadian system with different behavioral measures and attempts to help adolescents find a better nighttime routine.
To combat sleep deprivation in adolescents, researchers used light therapy on two weekend mornings for a total of 2.5 hours. The bright light tells the internal clock to wake up a little earlier. This change should make it easier for the teen to fall asleep at an appropriate time.
Less tired, irritable
Crowley and her team then helped tackle sleep deprivation by providing time management tools and removing barriers to an earlier bedtime, such as limiting certain activities after school.
The researchers were able to shift the teens’ bedtimes an hour and a half earlier, and their total sleep time increased by about an hour.
“The interesting thing is that teenagers with late circadian clocks shifted up to two hours earlier,” Crowley said. “And teens who had an earlier circadian clock didn’t need to be shifted earlier. They just needed behavioral support to try to manage their time in the evening and increase their sleep duration.”
The researchers also found that the teens in the intervention group were less tired, less irritable and less worried, and showed better concentration. Students’ morning alertness has also improved.
RUSH researchers are following participants in another study to determine if teens were able to maintain their improved sleep routine.
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Material provided by Rush University Medical Center. Original written by Nancy Di Fiore. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.