Light From Electronic Screens Can Disrupt Teenage Sleep Patterns

Stephanie J. Crowley, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Biological Rhythms Research Laboratory Department of Behavioral Sciences Rush University Medical Center Chicago, IL 60612MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Stephanie J. Crowley, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Biological Rhythms Research Laboratory
Department of Behavioral Sciences
Rush University Medical Center
Chicago, IL 60612

Medical Research: What is the background for this study?

Dr. Crowley: Your readers may have seen recent reports by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC about problems with early morning school bells for teens and the need to push school start times later.  These recent calls for later school start times come from data showing that biological processes make it challenging for a teen to get enough sleep and be rested for school when they have to wake up very early for school.  One of these biological processes is the circadian timing system, which is the approximate 24-hour brain clock that regulates the timing of sleep and wake.  During the teen years, the brain clock is shifted later making it more difficult for many teens to fall asleep early enough to get sufficient sleep on school nights.

Medical Research: What are the main findings?

Dr. Crowley: Melatonin suppression, as tested in this new study, is a good indication of how light affects the circadian system.  Our findings show that even a very small amount of light (similar to “romantic mood lighting”) in the evening suppressed melatonin levels in the middle-school-aged adolescents.  Because evening light “seen” by the brain clock shifts the clock later in time, the message is that biologically-driven later sleep times starts at this early age and needs to be considered when managing school and sleep schedules.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Crowley: This study has clinical implications in so far as helping teens (and their parents) to know that even small amounts of light in the evening—for example, light from screens–can negatively impact sleep patterns.  Youngsters who have access to tablets, smart phones, or computers in the evening before bed are likely pushing their brain clocks to a later time.  This later timing then makes it harder to go to sleep and wake up at times that are compatible with school schedules.  Limiting light in the evening and enhancing light in the morning can counterbalance these effects.  Parents can help their children by setting bedtimes and limiting access to light at night.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Crowley: We hope to link this finding to other aspects of the circadian timing system and overall sleep regulation.  We think that this work can also inform future intervention studies in teens, particularly those teens that have difficulty getting enough sleep on school nights.

Citation:

Increased sensitivity of the circadian system to light in early/mid puberty

Stephanie J. Crowley, Ph.D, , Sean W. Cain, Ph.D, , Angus C. Burns , Christine Acebo, Ph.D, Mary A. Carskadon, Ph.D

J Clin Endocrinol Metab
doi: 10.1210/jc.2015-2775 Accepted August 18, 2015.

Stephanie_Crowley_McWilliam@rush.edu

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Stephanie J. Crowley, Ph.D., & Assistant Professo (2015). Light From Electronic Screens Can Disrupt Teenage Sleep Patterns

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