The Teensleep project is the largest study ever to look at adolescent circadian delay and the effects of sleep education on academic, health and sleep outcomes. If the proposed intervention is found to be effective, more evidence will exist to support the introduction of a sleep education programme into the PSHE curriculum across the UK school system.
We have decided to redesign the study to address practical concerns about schools being randomised to delay their start time. We will now just focus on sleep education to address a similar scientific rationale, while exploring alternative methods to investigate the adolescent circadian delay, as well as the impacts on health and mental health in the future.
Why is teensleep important?
In adolescence biological rhythms change in such a way that makes it difficult for teenagers to go to sleep and get up early. Therefore, asking an adolescent to get up at 7 am to start school at 9 am is akin to asking a 55-year-old to get up at 5 am: this leads to a significant amount of sleep deprivation. This sleep deprivation interacts with biological rhythms, creating a period of low energy and tiredness which lasts into mid-morning. The biological predisposition for delayed sleep in adolescence is compounded by a more relaxed societal attitude to bedtimes, 24/7 access to social media, and abnormal light exposure from various electrical devices. Many adolescents now have devices in their bedrooms (tablets, phones, etc.) that emit a low-level light in the blue wavelength which has been shown to have a direct, alerting effect on the biological clock which may interfere with the process of going to sleep. Studies have shown that using technology, such as e-readers, in the hour prior to sleep can delay the expression of the sleep hormone melatonin. Pupils are also dealing with the stress of exams and are unaware of the importance of sleep and the effects of sleep deprivation.
Teachers will be trained to deliver a sleep education programme to year 10 students as part of their form time or Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) lessons. The programme consists of 10 half hour lessons / topics which can be delivered flexibly and focus on the basic science behind good sleep-related behaviours, sleep hygiene and good bed-time routines, as well as stress-management techniques and how to maintain good sleep during periods of stress. They are designed to be discursive and self-reflective: introducing the scientific theory, followed by discussion of the impact of this on an individual, and ending with a focus on the students and their own sleep. As one of our outcomes is educational attainment, the programme focuses on the importance of sleep for learning and memory but it also discusses emotion, health, creativity and sports performance. Although there are “do and do nots” in the sections on sleep hygiene, lessons always return back to the theory and get students to focus on what impact poor sleep hygiene (e.g. using your phone in bed) might have on their sleep and how that would make them feel in terms of the theory.
WHAT MAKES YOU TICK?
How do you know when it's time to wake up or go to sleep? More powerful than any alarm are your circadian rhythms. In this animation by Oxford Sparks we take a look at how these rhythms work and what controls them.
HOW THE STUDY WORKs
Sleep is the most effective cognitive enhancer we have.- Professor Russell Foster, Principal Investigator
We are currently recruiting four state secondary schools in England and Wales to deliver the sleep education programme to year 10 students before August 2016, and a further 10 schools to do the same between September and December 2016. We will also be monitoring sleep patterns in a sub-sample of 20 pupils from each school using a telemetric device worn on the wrist and a sleep diary for two weeks before and after they receive the sleep education programme. These ‘watches’ give a pseudo-objective measure of sleep, allowing the research team to investigate if sleep length improves as a result of the intervention and therefore how the intervention affects sleep quality via a decrease in sleep deprivation. Finally, we will be surveying all pupils in year 10 before and after receiving sleep education to assess physical and psychological well-being, through online / paper questionnaires. This will reveal any secondary benefits of the intervention on mood regulation, physical health and perceived quality of life, for example. The study will allow us to develop the sleep education programme and determine feasibility of the survey and sleep measurement devices using feedback from teachers and students.
Reasons to take part
Pupils may benefit from improved sleep, academic performance and well-being. Schools will receive access to a sleep education teaching programme which they can continue to teach to students in any year group in the future. They will also receive recognition from the Education Endowment Foundation as an EEF Research Partner School to evidence their involvement in educational research. Teachers will also benefit from training in sleep education to increase their understanding of how sleep can influence the success of both teachers and students in the classroom. Finally, staff and parents will gain access to Sleepio, an online education intervention clinically proven to help improve sleep.
- Russell Foster Prinicipal Investigator
- Colin Espie Prinicipal Investigator
- Christopher-James Harvey Supervisor
- Rachel Sharman Post-doctoral Research Assistant
- Gaby Illingworth Post-doctoral Research Assistant