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Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

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TEENSLEEP: Improving Educational Attainment in Adolescence through Sleep Education

Trial categories: Brain; Other

Sponsoring organisation: Education Endowment Foundation / Wellcome Trust

Teensleep is the largest study ever to assess 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. Teensleep is funded as part of the Education and Neuroscience joint initiative between the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Wellcome Trust to explore how insights from neuroscience can be used to improve education.

Adolescent circadian rhythms (the body clock that manages the cycle of sleep and wakefulness) delay by one to three hours during puberty. This delay can make it difficult for adolescents to go to sleep and get up early: they are attempting to sleep when their clock is signalling the body to remain awake yet rising when their clock is signalling the body to remain asleep. Therefore, asking an adolescent to get up at 7am to start school at 9am is akin to asking a 55-year-old to get up at 5am: this leads to a significant amount of sleep deprivation. This sleep deprivation interacts with their biological rhythms, creating a period of low energy and tiredness which lasts into mid-morning. Further, as adolescent biological rhythms are delayed, current school start times force teenagers to wake up and begin to learn whilst their body is still prepared for sleep.

The biological predisposition for delayed sleep in adolescence is exacerbated by a more relaxed societal attitude to bedtimes, 24/7 access to social media and abnormal light exposure from a range of electrical devices. Many adolescents now have devices in their bedrooms (tablets, phones) 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. Certainly, 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 and pressure of exams and are unaware of the importance of sleep and the effects of sleep deprivation. The Teensleep study will therefore investigate the effect of sleep education on sleep quality and academic outcomes.

Teachers will be trained to deliver a sleep education programme to year 10 and 11 students as part of their Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) lessons or form time. The programme consists of 10 half hour lessons / topics which focus on basic sleep science, sleep hygiene, and stress management. 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 we also discuss 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 (e.g. broken sleep resulting in reduced reaction times and poorer sports performance).

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 (to measure rest activity cycles) and a sleep diary. This will allow us to investigate whether sleep length improves as a result of the sleep education and therefore how the intervention affects achievement, via a decrease in sleep deprivation through improvement of sleep knowledge. Finally, we will be surveying all pupils involved three times per academic year to assess physical and psychological well-being through online questionnaires, although a paper version will be available if the schools would prefer. This will reveal any secondary benefits of the sleep education intervention on, for example, mood regulation, physical health and perceived quality of life.

If you are interested in finding out more about Teensleep, please send an email to:

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  • 01865 618666

You can also follow the study on Twitter (Twitter.com/OxTeensleep) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/OxTeensleep) for more updates and news about sleep and adolescence.

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