How your teens can sleep better – insights from the latest research at Stanford

In Sleep Science • October 10th, 2019

If you know any teenagers or pay attention to the community, you have probably heard about the sleep-deprivation epidemic among teens. Teens need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night to be at their best, but very few of them actually manage to do that. Staying up late for homework, checking on Instagram and texting with friends may be a typical night spent for many teens. As a result, most teens do not get enough sleep — one study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights. According to the latest University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, 43% of parents reported that their teen has trouble falling asleep or has difficulty waking up and being unable to get back asleep: this included 25% with occasional problems (1-2 nights per week) and 18% with frequent problems (3 or more nights per week).

Is it merely a problem of a lack of self-discipline? Not entirely. While social media and video games do play a part in sucking the teens time before bed, a number of other factors are also contributing to teen’s sleep deprivation: caffeine intake, heavy homework loads, extracurricular activities and schools with early start times, and… our old friend:  circadian rhythm misalignment.

Circadian rhythm in teenagers

During puberty, teenagers’ melatonin secretion timing is several hours later than that of adults. Typical melatonin secretion for adults start around 9 pm, however, researchers observed a 1-3 hours delay in the melatonin secretion for teens. The direct result of the late melatonin secretion is that the natural bedtime for teens is several hours later than the adults, even without a cell phone. Nonetheless, most teens need to get up early in the morning because most schools start before 8:30 am. This combination of late melatonin secretion and early school start time does not leave much time for the teens to sleep, likely to the detriment of their social and academic performance. There has been a nation-wide discussion on whether we should delay the school start time to after 8:30 am. In fact, some districts have already implemented the new schedules. However, when school starts later, everyone involved – from football coaches to school bus drivers to cleaning staff – may have to go home later too, which makes these adjustments more complicated than simply looking at the data about adolescent sleep.

Light therapy study

Is there a better solution? Probably. There seems to be a line of hope, based on the latest research in the lab. Our scientific advisor, Dr. Jamie Zeitzer at Stanford University, recently published a study showing the effectiveness of carefully-timed light flashes in combination with cognitive behavior therapy to improve sleep for teens.

“Using a passive light therapy during sleep, we can help teens get an extra 43 minutes of sleep every single night,” said senior author Jamie Zeitzer, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.”

More details about the study can be found here.

We are all very excited about the implications of Jaime’s study, in no small part because the light flash technology being tested is also the basis for the Lumos Smart Sleep Mask. As you might imagine, we are planning to build a module for the Lumos Smart Sleep Mask to apply this research and help teen sleep issues. This enhancement will obviously take some time to develop, but with the increasing body of data on adolescent sleep problems, it really can’t be ignored. We are all looking forward to the day when teens can get a full night’s sleep, and parents don’t have to worry about their children’s health and grades!