Helping Teens Sleep Longer

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine have found that a combination of two treatments can help teens get more sleep.

Many teenagers are chronically sleep deprived. In addition to a later circadian rhythm, which controls the rhythms of sleep and wakefulness, teenagers also stay up late to complete homework or use electronic devices. Early school start times often require them to wake up before they’re fully rested, according to a news release from the Stanford, California-based university.

Earlier studies tested whether cognitive behavioral therapy alone could help teens go to bed earlier. Overall, the adolescents went to bed 10 to 15 minutes earlier, but it might have put participants at odds with their body clock, said Jamie Zeitzer, senior author of the study and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

“We have a biological drive to stay awake in the hours before we normally go to sleep,” he said. “So, our team wondered if we could adjust the circadian timing, having the teens essentially move their brains to Denver while they’re living in California.”

Zeitzer previously researched the effects of short flashes of light in helping travelers adjust to a new time zone. In this study, researchers tested using flashing light on teens. 

Lights installed in the teens’ bedrooms delivered 3-millisecond flashes every 20 seconds during the last few hours of sleep, according to a Stanford news release. The light did not wake them.

During the first four weeks of the study, 72 teens were exposed to light therapy. They reported feeling more tired at night, but still stayed up late, the release said. 

In the second four-week phase, 30 teens received light therapy and participated in four one-hour sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy. Therapists helped them identify areas of their lives they cared about that would be better if they had more sleep, such as academics, physical appearance or athletic performance. They also received information on sleep hygiene.

The participants who received both light therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy went to bed 50 minutes earlier than those who received only cognitive behavioral therapy. They also slept 43 minutes longer. 

The study was published online Sept. 25 in JAMA Network Open.

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