ARC-funded researchers, led by Professor Michael Gradisar at Flinders University, are approaching sleep studies innovatively, by examining the troubled sleep of teenagers, and identifying the causes of their sleep deprivation. The project, with funding from the ARC Discovery Projects scheme, analyses the biological reasons behind teenage sleep patterns, in parallel with research into whether light therapy can reset body clocks and assist in advancing or delaying sleep cycles.

The technology in action, dubbed ‘Re-Timer’, is worn like a pair of sunglasses. The glasses radiate a soft, green, UV-free light and stimulate the area of the brain that is responsible for regulating the 24-hour body clock. This makes it easier to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning, which is a welcome experience for teens and their parents participating in the study, and for use more widely in people of all ages. The glasses help to counter jet lag, and also assist with alertness—particularly useful for shift workers and teenagers with study and work commitments.

Given that teenagers can experience sleep disruption for an average of 3.5 years, understanding the biology behind bad sleep to help inform the effectiveness of light therapy is an exciting concept for current and future generations.

A 2017 follow-up study, seeking to relieve teenagers of Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder, a common condition in which adolescents struggle to get to sleep, wake up and feel drowsy during the day, was undertaken by Flinders University researchers. The study found that three weeks of exposure to bright light, through devices such as the Re-Timer, helped reduce sleepiness, fatigue and depressive symptoms in the enlisted adolescents and young adults.

Image: ‘Re-Timer’ glasses radiates a soft, green UV-free light.
Image Credit: Flinders University.