Tired teens see the light

Exposing sleepy teens to bright light in the morning can improve their sleep and help them feel more alert during the day, a Flinders University study shows.

Researchers investigated an innovative way to cure teenagers of Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder, a common condition in which adolescents struggle to get to sleep, wake late and feel drowsy during the day.

They enlisted 60 adolescents and young adults with the condition. Half wore portable glasses that exposed them to doses of green bright light while the other half received red light. Some students also did mild morning exercise.

Researchers analysed sleep timing, sleep quality and day-time functioning both pre- and post-treatment.

“After light therapy, adolescents were able to fall asleep and wake up earlier and they slept longer,” says lead researcher Cele Richardson.

The treatment also reduced sleepiness, fatigue and depressive symptoms, she says.

However, the colour of the light did not alter treatment outcomes and the mild morning exercise offered no additional benefits.

Green light therapy has been show to reduce daytime sleepiness, fatigue and depressive symptoms in adolescents.

It is possible that morning exercise of a higher intensity, or longer duration could help to improve teen’s sleeping patterns, and the research team are hoping to answer this question in another study underway.

“Given that these adolescents had experienced their sleep problem for approximately 3.5 years, it is exciting to discover that three weeks of light therapy can meaningfully improve adolescents’ sleep and daytime functioning,” Miss Richardson says.

“That’s a result that many parents will be happy to hear.”

Professor Michael Gradisar, Neralie Cain and Kate Bartel from the Child Adolescent Sleep research group were also involved in investigating the effects of bright light therapy (via portable light glasses) and morning activity (via exer-games) over three weeks of treatment and at 1- and 3- month follow-up.

The research was presented at Sleep DownUnder 2017, the annual conference of the Australasian Sleep Association, held last week (October 25-28) at the SkyCity Auckland Convention Centre, New Zealand.

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