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Sleepytime Blues

A WLHS freshman's scientific study of youths' sleep habits and their relation to class times wins top honors at the state science fair
by: , Elliot Prince

Developed award-winning
sleep study

Sleep deprivation is affecting students in high schools across the country. One student's study on the topic has earned a West Linn High School freshman top honors at this year's state science fair. Elliot Prince won in the Best of Medicine category as well as Best of Fair.

Since she was in the seventh grade, Prince has been interested in the sleep habits of teens.

That first seventh-grade project, led to more questions for the budding scientist.

This year, she heightened her interest in the subject and continued to study the sleep habits of her peers.

'I got interested in this, because I'm a teen-ager and I'm sleepy,' Prince said.

She explored the subject and found there wasn't any information on educating teen-agers to help them change their habits. Teen sleep is a topic that has little scientific study.

'I wanted to educate,' she said. 'No one had done it, and I wanted to explore something that nobody already had the answer to.'

She recruited 20 freshmen at West Linn High School to comprise experimental and control groups. These groups completed the same three phases of the study: baseline, regulation and follow up.

Baseline was just to observe their usual sleep schedules. Regulation consisted of assigning regular sleep schedules with no more than two hours difference in bed or wake times on any two days. Subjects had to get a minimum of 7½ hours of sleep each night.

Prince then educated the experimental group on sleep hygiene (health). The follow up period was to check back and see which subjects maintained the regular schedule. On average, members of the experimental group weren't as sleepy after the regulation period.

'I wanted to see if I could regulate their assigned sleep/wake schedule within two hours,' she said. 'When teens are busy, they often use their night time as their personal time.'

Many of youths take that time out of their sleep time.

Before the experiment, most participants had erratic sleep schedules. They would be deprived of sleep during the week and try to catch up with extra sleep on the weekends.

A typical example of high school students is freshman Shelby Patterson.

Before taking part in the experiment, Shelby averaged six hours of sleep a night.

'It's not enough,' she admitted. 'It was hard to get up.'

During the study, she realized, she felt better with nine hours of sleep.

'I felt more rested,' she said. 'Now, I try to get nine hours of sleep a night. I'm more aware of it now, but I don't think I'm (still) getting my nine.'

Shelby estimates that she now gets an average of about 7½ hours of sleep each night - better than before the study, but not as good as she'd like it to be.

Freshman Jake Lutes had already been following a healthy sleep regimen.

'I think out of my friends, I get the most sleep,' said Jake, who averages 8½ hours of sleep a night. 'I'm not a person who can stay up (late) and do my work. I can do it (better) in the morning.'

His schedule allows him to go to sleep about 10 or 10:30 p.m. and wake up at 6:30 a.m. He's been in that practice since sixth grade, gradually adding a little more awake time in recent years.

'I think that by getting the same amount of sleep, my body gets used to it,' he said. 'I am always fully alert in my classes.'

And that's Prince's goal in sleep education. Through this educational process, Prince was able to show students how to slowly increase their sleep time.

'The results from my study suggest that sleep education in high schools could help students make positive sleep changes to experience less daytime sleepiness,' Prince said.

She also found that high school students are most alert between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

One of Prince's teachers, Ron Chappel, is allowing her to teach a class with information based on her study, because it fits into the curriculum. She says there's a lot to learn about maintaining health.

'Low grades, poor attitude, depression, use of drugs and alcohol, stagnant or declining sports performance, weight gain and skin problems are not just part of teens themselves,' Prince wrote in her report. 'Insufficient total sleep and/or irregular sleep/wake schedules can cause, exacerbate or prolong any of those things.'

Prince said she proved that an earlier bed time for this age group was an important factor in maintaining focus while at school.

'The main change between groups in follow up that really helped the experimental group was earlier bed times on average,' she said in a recent interview. 'This suggests that education taught the subjects that going to bed earlier was an important and effective way to feel less sleepy. This has not been demonstrated before my study.'

Aside from the state awards, Prince also won three West Linn-Wilsonville School District awards: Best of Fair, Best Demonstration of Field Knowledge and first place in Medicine, Health and Biology.

Cindy Garrison is employed by the West Linn-Wilsonville School District and often writes articles for the Tidings.

How to avoid the sleepytime blues

Manage personal time: Most teens use the night hours to have control over their lives. Make time in another part of the day when you're not busy.

No worries: Get rid of worries before lying in bed and trying to fall asleep. Listen to soothing music; belt out the lyrics of a song; keep a piece of paper at bedside to write worries; talk to someone; or take a relaxing bath. Try until you find what works for you.

Avoid distractions: Don't be distracted by the use of technology close to bedtime. This includes television and cell phones as well as computer and video games. 'Unplug' yourself one hour before going to bed.

Early homework: Complete homework earlier. More than two-thirds of Prince's subjects went to bed on school nights immediately after finishing homework.

Sidestep naps: Restrict napping during daylight; at least limit naps to 30 minutes. Napping during the day makes it harder to fall asleep at night.

Bedrooms are for sleep: Make the bedroom the most relaxing place in the house. Personalize it and try to do nothing in that room but sleep.

Dine early: Don't eat large amounts of food two hours before bedtime. The body does not need food to sleep. Eating breakfast the next morning is more important.

Cut caffeine: Avoid caffeine altogether if possible or at least do not drink any six hours before bedtime.

- The above information based on Elliot Prince's research.