Teenagers May Hit Sleep Goals with Bright Light Therapy, Time Management

Bright light therapy and better time management could make it possible for teenagers to get the recommended 8 hours of sleep, according to new research.

Bright light therapy and time management tools may help teenagers regulate their sleep schedules for better and longer sleep, according to researchers at Rush University Medical Center, who published their findings in the journal SLEEP. Following use of therapy and behavioral tools, researchers observed that participants felt less tired and irritable.

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

Researchers suggest that there are 2 competing forces in a teenager’s brain—1 force encourages teenagers to regulate sleep by going to bed earlier during the school year. The other force is biological, which makes it possible for teenagers to stay up very late.

"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.

The National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine determined that adolescents need 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night for physical health, emotional wellbeing, and good performance in school. But adolescents often get less than 8 hours of sleep each night, especially on school nights), according to the study.

The researchers at Rush University performed a 2-week intervention to help teens have a better nighttime routine. Using behavioral measures to target the circadian system, the investigative team aimed to combat the widespread phenomenon of sleep deprivation in teenagers.

Researchers used bright light therapy for 2.5 hours in 2 weekend morning sessions. It is suggested that bright light can signal our internal clock to wake up earlier. Consequently, it may help regulate an appropriate time for a teen to go to bed. The team also implemented time management tools, such as limiting afterschool activities, to increase the likelihood of an earlier bedtime.

The results showed that teenagers who were part of the intervention went to bed 1.5 hours earlier and their total sleep time increased by nearly 1 hour. Crowley found that "teens with late circadian clocks shifted by up to 2 hours earlier."

After 2 weeks, the teenagers reported feeling less worried and less irritable, and had better concentration. They also reported feeling more alert in the morning.

Even teenagers whose circadian clock did not need to shift benefited from the time management intervention.

“They [just] needed the behavioral support of trying to manage their time in the evening and increase their sleep duration," Crowley said in the press release.

Researchers are studying participants again to see whether they maintained their improved sleep routine.

Reference

Rush University Medical Center. Researchers find ways to help teens get more sleep. Science Daily. October 3, 2022. Accessed on October 4, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/10/221003141357.

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