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Sleep-deprived teen? Here's the study for you

Dr. R. Robert Auger
Dr. Robert Auger

If you’re a teen or know a teen who has trouble falling asleep until the early morning, Mayo Clinic and Rush University in Chicago want to hear from you.

The two institutions are teaming up to do a sleep study on teens who likely have delayed sleep phase disorder. Although studies show it’s typical for teenagers to stay up later, researchers want to study teens who have the disorder to learn if wearing glasses that block out different types of light could help.

Depending on the studies’ findings, teens with the sleep disorder could find some relief, said Dr. R. Robert Auger, sleep medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic.

"Virtually all high school and middle school students are chronically sleep-deprived," Auger said.

Teen patients present a unique challenge for sleep disorder specialists.


"It’s a very difficult problem to treat clinically," Auger said. "I can’t tell them to go to school later."

Other preliminary studies show that teens with the sleep phase disorder have an increased risk of depression, substance abuse and perform more poorly than their peers academically.

Other studies have suggested that evening light might be a factor correlating with the sleep disorder. Mayo Clinic and Rush University will examine that factor. Participants will be asked to wear a pair of glasses over a two-week period and record their sleep habits.

Auger said it would be "wonderful" if the glasses’ lenses helped teens fall into a sleep schedule.

"It’s economical, it’s simple and (we) could apply it tomorrow," Auger said.

Typical treatment options, such as morning light therapy, might help adults, but isn’t as helpful for students who need to be up early for school. Waking up early to bask under a lamp for a few minutes before heading to school is probably not the best use of teens’ time, Auger said.

"They’re probably better off getting as much sleep as they can," he said.

Researchers will also record the teen participants’ melatonin levels via saliva samples at the start and conclusion of the study period. Smaller, preliminary studies show the glasses helped adults with sleep disorders, Auger said.


Researchers plan to record results of at least 50 teen participants. They put out a call to area school districts to find participants.

Participants will wear the glasses and a light sensor. The glasses are also fitted with a thermometer to track when the study participants are wearing them. The light meter, about the size of a watch, will record the intensity of light the wearer is experiencing. The tools also help researchers know how much the participant complied with the study instructions.

Interest has been high, research coordinator Deanna Hofschulte said.

"The biggest challenge is scheduling right now," she said.

Participants will be paid $300 at the conclusion of their study period. Researchers want to study students only during a regular school schedule — not at times they can sleep in.

The three-year grant funding the study comes from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Anyone who is interested participating in the study can contact Hofschulte at hofschulte.deanna@mayo.edu.

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