Rising concerns about sleep-deprived adolescents have prompted Mayo Clinic and Rush University in Chicago to study the sleep habits of “night owl” teens.
For some adolescents, no matter what time they go to bed, they’re awake into the early morning, said Dr. R. Robert Auger, sleep medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic.
Those teenagers are most likely have delayed sleep phase disorder, and researchers want them for the study, Auger said.
Virtually all high school and middle school students are chronically sleep-deprived, Auger said. A 2014 policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, identified insufficient sleep for adolescents a “public health issue.”
Some sleep studies have suggested that evening light might be a factor that correlates with the sleep disorder. The study will focus on that factor by having participants wear a pair of glasses during a two-week period and record their sleep habits. Depending on the study's findings, teenagers with the sleep disorder could find some relief, Auger said. This is the second year of the three-year study.
Participants in the study will wear the glasses, a light sensor and a thermometer. The thermometer helps researchers track when the glasses are being worn. Having participants self report when they’re wearing the glasses can make gathering accurate data difficult, Auger said.
The light meter, about the size of a watch, records light intensity around the participant.
Researchers said they want to collect results from at least 50 participants.
Four teenagers participated in the study at Mayo this spring. Researchers hope to have quadruple the participation through the end of the academic year spring 2020.
By the time researchers were ready and had permission from area school districts to put out a call for students last year, the academic year was almost over, research coordinator Deanna Hofschulte said.
Researchers want to study students' sleep habits during the school year when they have a regular routine, Hofschulte said. An earlier start at recruiting participants this academic year gives researchers an opportunity to collect more data than they did last year.
The study itself is a unique undertaking.
“There’ve been no studies for adolescents,” Auger said. “This will give us some good information on those night owls, and so it should be pretty illuminating.”
School schedules can lead to sleep deprivation for adolescents who have the sleep disorder.
A 2017 study published by the University of Minnesota based on a survey of 9,000 students from five school districts with varying start times found that those who started school later slept more. Students who slept more also had improved attendance and enrollment rates, reported better mental health status and were less likely to use alcohol and tobacco.
Auger noted a national trend to push back school start times for middle and high school students. He noted a recent bill signed in California this month that mandates high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
“The science continues to support later start times,” Auger said.
Grant funding for the three-year study comes from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Anyone who wants to participate in the study can contact Hofschulte at email@example.com.