A new study shows how adolescents quickly improved their sleep time and quality in just one week's time.
Oh, teens and their sleep. On the one hand, they need a lot of it – yet on the other, fulfilling that need is elusive for many. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need eight to 10 hours of sleep a night, yet research has found that only 15 percent get at least 8 1/2 hours on school nights.
Later school start times would help. Because of a teen's biology, sleeping and waking both tend to happen later during adolescence, "meaning it is natural to not be able to fall asleep before 11:00 pm," notes The Foundation. With the average U.S. middle and high school starting at 8:00 am, you can see how this could be a problem.But there is something we can do at home to help the problem: Reduce evening exposure to light-emitting screens on phones, tablets and computers.
And in fact, according to research presented at the European Congress of Endocrinology, just one week of doing this has been shown to reverse sleep problems in teenagers.
Previous studies have found that the blue light from electronic devices can affect the brain's clock and the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, leading to poor-quality, disrupted sleep.
"Adolescents increasingly spend more time on devices with screens and sleep complaints are frequent in this age group,” said Dr. Dirk Jan Stenvers from the department of Endocrinology and Metabolism of the Amsterdam UMC. “Here we show very simply that these sleep complaints can be easily reversed by minimising evening screen use or exposure to blue light. Based on our data, it is likely that adolescent sleep complaints and delayed sleep onset are at least partly mediated by blue light from screens"
The study, a collaboration between the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience, the Amsterdam UMC and the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, looked at the effects of blue light exposure on adolescents at home. The participants included 55 Dutch youth between the ages of 12 and 17 who represented two types of screen users: frequent (four hours a day), and infrequent (one hour a day).
There were three one-week phases of the study, with each week being interspersed by a “washout period” week, for a total of five weeks. The kids kept sleep diaries, wore monitoring devices, and provided saliva samples throughout to measure melatonin levels.
The infrequent users acted as a control group; prior to the start of the study, they woke up 30 minutes earlier and were less likely to wake up at night than the frequent users.
On the first week, the frequent users were asked to use their screens as normal; on the third week, they were asked to wear blue light–blocking glasses during evening screen time. On the fifth week, they were asked to avoid evening screen time altogether.
At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that “both blocking blue light with glasses and screen abstinence resulted in sleep onset and wake up times occurring 20 minutes earlier, and a reduction in reported symptoms of sleep loss in participants, after just one week.”
A lack of good sleep goes beyond tiredness; it can also increase the risk of more serious long-term health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. There has been plenty of research on the subject of sleep deprivation and screen time, but this is the first investigation into how real-life exposure is affecting sleep in adolescents at home and whether it can be reversed.
And lo and behold it can be. Now that the scientists have figured that out, maybe they can work on some of those other teen phenomena, like angst and the superhuman eye roll?