Although teenagers are renowned for sleeping longer, a new study has revealed that the seasons can affect how much sleep teenagers secure. The hormone melatonin, which gradually builds throughout the day and signals the onset of darkness to the body was found to be responsible for controlling sleep patterns.
Research was conducted at the Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Lighting Centre in New York, where a group of 13-14 year olds from a nearby school were tested. Their melatonin and light levels were measured and compared in spring and winter periods.
Students were asked to keep sleep records and each wore a small device that was mounted to their heads which showed that exposure to extended daylight hours due to lighter nights rather than electronic light had the most effect upon sleeping patterns. The sleep records revealed that students fell asleep on average sixteen minutes later and slept an average of fifteen minutes less during the night compared to winter months.
More light equals less melatonin which means less sleep, while less light equals more melatonin and more sleep. Mariana Figveiro, the associate professor conducting the research said; “In addition to the exposure to more evening daylight, many teens also contend with not getting enough morning light to stimulate the body’s biological system, which also delays teen’s bedtimes”.
It was concluded that teenagers should increase their morning daylight exposure all year round and limit evening daylight in the spring to ensure they get enough sleep before going to school.
The research was published in the July issue of Chronobiology International.