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Study suggests how setting a sleep schedule can help adolescents get more sleep

by Medically Speaking Team

When transitioning to a new sleep pattern at the start of the school year, teenagers may suffer interrupted sleep, daytime weariness, and changes in mood and attention.

According to the National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, most teenagers receive fewer than eight hours of sleep every night, even though they require eight to ten hours to sustain physical health, mental well-being, and scholastic success. A new study from RUSH published in the journal SLEEP gives light on how teens might obtain more shut-eye.

“There are a lot of changes a teen goes through,” said Stephanie J. Crowley, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the director of the Pediatric Chronobiology and Sleep Research Program at RUSH. “One specifically is a change to sleep biology that happens during puberty.”

“The brain systems that control sleep change in such a way that it’s easier for an adolescent to stay awake later into the evening. One of these systems — the 24-hour circadian clock — shifts later in 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 happens naturally to a teen’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 tries to help the teens figure out a better nighttime routine.

To combat teen sleep deprivation, the researchers used bright light therapy on two weekend mornings for a total of 2.5 hours. The bright light cues the internal clock to wake up a little earlier. This shift should make it easier for the teen to fall asleep at an appropriate time.

Less tired, irritable with increased Sleep

Crowley and her team then helped counteract sleep deprivation by providing time management tools and addressing barriers to an earlier bedtime, like limiting certain after-school activities.

Researchers were able to shift the teens’ bedtime by an hour and a half earlier, and their total sleep time increased by approximately an hour.

“The interesting thing is that teens with late circadian clocks shifted by up to two hours earlier,” Crowley said. “And the teens who had an earlier circadian clock didn’t need to be shifted any earlier. They just needed the behavioral support of trying to manage their time in the evening and increase their sleep duration.”

The youths in the intervention group were also less exhausted, angry, and concerned, and they had improved focus, according to the study. The kids’ morning alertness also improved.

The RUSH researchers are following up with participants in another trial to see if the teens were able to sustain their better sleep habits.

Also Read: Did you know? Practising weight exercise every day lowers your chance of death?

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