How do LED lights impact our sleep

Today’s guest post comes from Arthur Smith. Arthur  is a solar energy and LED lighting enthusiast with years of experience working in these fields. For the last few years, he has been running, a blog about all things solar and LED lighting. You can contact him either on his website or on Twitter & Facebook @LEDwatcher.


How does light affect your body?

First a bit of background though! Your body has it’s very own ‘biological clock’ called the Circadian Rhythm, which in other words means all the physical, mental and behavioral changes in our body are based upon a 24 hours cycle, that is influenced both by changes in your body and by external factors – the main one of which is, yes, light! Light acts as a stimulus that prompts your body clock to turn on and off particular genes which control things like your sleeping pattern, hormones, body temperature and various other functions. So light is indeed capable of influencing our sleep-waking cycle: by turning the external lights off or down before bed-time, this will influence your body to initiate the production of melatonin, a hormone makes us want to sleep; on the other hand, if you leave the lights turned on before going to sleep for the evening, melatonin production will be suppressed, leaving you feeling alert and awake.

Blue-toned LED lighting

So, yes, light does impact your sleep. But why the controversy over LED lighting, in particular blue toned LED lighting? It all comes back to the sleep cycle discussed above and how it is affected by external lighting conditions. Your body registers the amount of light in the outside environment through the eyes, and your eyes are especially sensitive to blue-toned light – so the greater the amount of blue toned light in the environment, the more your sleep-waking cycle will be effected. How do LED lights relate to this? LED Lamps emit more blue, cool-toned wavelengths of light than the older incandescent and even fluorescent lights, therefore they have greater potential to interfere with our sleep than any other light source out there. (By the same token though, greater exposure to blue-toned light from your computer or other light sources during the morning hours will help you become more alert and awake).

Do you need to turn off the LED lighting before going to sleep?

The current consensus appears to be that we should turn off our LED lights – including tablet and smartphone screens – at least one hour before going to sleep; this will help us get a better, more unbroken sleep overnight. But what do we do if our overhead and bedside lights are also equipped with LED bulbs? We don’t want to ditch them entirely – after all, the whole reason we switched over to LED bulbs is because of their greater efficiency and longevity compared to older, incandescent and fluorescent lights. We merely need to find a way to not get exposed to as much blue light from them.

Here are a few of the things you can do:

  • When buying LED bulbs, choose those that have a warmer color temperature – they produce far fewer blue wavelengths, and are therefore a lot easier on your eyes and sleeping habits
  • For your tablet and smartphone devices, try and get a blue light filtering application or program that will put over your screen a red-toned overlay which will make it emit fewer blue light wavelengths.
  • For those of you who like to watch television late into the evening hours, look at getting yourself some special TV glasses which have yellow tinted lenses, that again will filter the blue light and limit the amount of it received by your eyes.

Do you tend to suffer through restless nights full of broken sleep? You may have heard the claim that being exposed to too much LED lighting throughout the evening hours – whether it’s from your lamps, television, computer or smartphone screen – negatively impacts your sleep. But is it true? We’re here to separate fact from fiction, myth from reality, and examine what effect LED lights REALLY have on your sleep cycle. Read on to find out! And find more information here.


Bizarre sleeping habits of famous people

So it turns out that famous people sleep too! And guess what? Some of them are weird about sleep, just like some of us. Part of the price they pay for being rich and famous is that we hoi-polloi get to metaphorically peer into their window while they sleep and take note of their several sheep-counting devices. Such is fame. It turns out that celebjury has mastered the art of laying out all that is cool and weird about our idols. It’s a good site. Go check it out!

11 Fascinating Bedroom Designs that Will Help Your Kids to Sleep Better

Today we’re featuring a guest post from blogger Aby League. Aby League is a passionate writer and researcher. She owns About Possibilities blog and writes mostly about health, psychology and technology. Get in touch with her via @abyleague

According to the estimates of 40 accredited pediatric sleep centers in the US, about 20 to 30 percent of children older than six months suffer from sleeping problems such as insomnia. The lack of sleep or not getting enough of it can be detrimental to an adult’s health—so what more for children?

A quality, restful sleep is required to heal and repair the body, and encourage healthy growth in children. Without it, your child may show crankiness and other behavioral problems during the day. Studies have also shown that bad sleep is also linked to poor grades in subjects like math, writing, and reading. They may also show symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders.

Fortunately, there are ways to make your child sleep earlier and better such as telling stories and creating bedroom rituals. Furthermore, the bedroom plays a major role in the quality of sleep a child gets every night—from the color of the walls to the type of bed mattress. Everything inside the room must be designed to make it ideal for sleep.

However, every child is unique so coming up with the right design may be a bit harder than it would seem. At times, it can get a bit frustrating especially when you’re still trying to find out how to design your bedroom conducive to sleep. You may need to try different designs or mix and match them to find the perfect one for your child. Here are 11 fascinating bedroom designs to help your kids sleep better.

1. Starry, starry night


Photo via Pinterest

You can play a bit with bedroom lighting depending on your child’s preference, but it is recommended to use dimmable lights. Although studies show that light, or the lack thereof, is a key factor in getting a good night’s sleep, many children actually find it a bit difficult to sleep in a completely dark room. A good way to find out how much light the child needs to sleep comfortably is to use a dimmable light.


2. Fluffy clouds for a mattress


Photo via Pinterest

Your child’s  bed should be comfortable enough to keep them settled and well rested. In general, a kid’s mattress should be full-sized, with the bed a bit lower for younger children. Full-size mattresses allow the child to move freely and find the best sleeping position. The size should also allow for company when the child needs one. In terms of comfort, your child should be the decision maker, but firm mattresses would be best for younger children, especially infants.

3. Make it “cool”


Photo via Pinterest

Image is important to children. They find much more comfort in bedrooms that they consider “cool” rather than those that need to match the design of the home. The bedroom is their place of comfort so it will be best if they have a say on its design. However, you’ll still need to provide a bit of guidance to ensure that the room is free from clutter or things that could divert their attention from sleeping.

4. Electronics: Keep off


Photo via Pinterest

Electronic items, such as laptops, computers, and tablets, are best left outside the bedroom. These items stimulate a child’s interest instead of inducing sleep. Encourage the child to read a book inside the bedroom instead of browsing the Internet or chatting with their friends.

Another reason why electronics should be avoided is that children often forget to unplug devices, thus, creating a fire hazard. There are countless stories of exploding cellphone batteries or overheating devices causing fires, so ask your children to use these devices in the living room or study room where you can monitor them.

5. The rainbow connection


Photo via Pinterest

The traditional blue for boys and pink for girls may seem like the best colors for children, but it isn’t always the case. Keep in mind that children are unique and will sooner or later have preferred colors as they grow older.

6. Keep it open and fresh


Photo via Pinterest

A child’s room should always smell clean and fresh, but without the aid of an air freshener. The room should be well ventilated and the best way to do this is to open a window or two for a few hours during the day. This may not be advisable if the home is in the city because of pollution, but there are other ways to ensure that the room is airy.

 7. Not too warm, not too cold


Photo via Pinterest

Keep in mind that your ideal room temperature may not be the same for your child. If possible, let the child choose the temperature setting. However, if you or your child is unsure of the right settings, try to aim for anywhere between 16 and18 degrees Celsius and start from there. You might also want to consider installing a ceiling fan for evenings that are comfortable enough to turn off the AC.

8. Keep the outdoors out


Photo via Pinterest

The environment outside the home can also affect a child’s sleeping patterns. Noise, light, and temperature are usually the culprits so try to reduce them as much as possible. If the home is located in a busy area, particularly during the night, then try to reduce noise by closing the windows and playing soft music inside the room. It will divert the child’s attention from exterior noise. However, it’s best to play tunes instead of music with lyrics to avoid additional distractions. Moreover, use curtains and drapes to reduce visual distractions at night.

9. Get rid of clutter


Photo via Pinterest

In a child’s room, storage can never be enough. Children and “stuff” are synonymous, so try to squeeze in extra storage spaces when you can. Doing so will reduce distracting clutter and even help the child learn about organization. If you have limited space, look for a bed design that can give you more storage space.

10. Decorate, decorate, decorate


Photo via Pinterest

Some of us were fortunate as kids to have decorated rooms, but others had the misfortune of being stuck in an adult room. All parents want their children to have a clean and tidy room, but this doesn’t mean that the room should be bare and unappealing for children. Kids will be kids. They’ll find ways to decorate their own rooms, which usually doesn’t turn out too good, so it’s best to teach children how to decorate their rooms properly.

 11. Creating a theme


Photo via Pinterest

Themed rooms such as this personal teepee room are a good place to start, especially when the child is still young. These types of rooms encourage a child’s creativity and make the room entertaining  However, keep in mind that as the child grows older, the theme may become a bit out of date. It’s best to come up with a design that you can easily change as needed rather than themes that can be a bit costly to replace.

Additionally, avoid themes that turn the room into a play area. Don’t over-design your child’s room. Always remember that the bedroom needs to be ideal for sleeping. There are other areas in the home where a child can play and have fun, study or do other things. Over-decorating the room can actually divert the child’s attention and lead to poor sleeping habits that can affect the child’s health.

Indeed, imagining how your child’s bedroom would look like can be exciting and fun. However, always remember that comfort and how the bedroom will help induce sleep on your child are more important than aesthetics. Hopefully, these kids’ bedroom ideas for  better sleep can help you create the perfect room for your child

Bright Light Therapy for Insomnia

Bright light therapy for sleep problems?

It doesn’t sound logical: how can bright light help you sleep? Doesn’t light keep you awake?

Well yes, light does keep you awake. That is precisely why light is a useful tool to help correct certain sleep problems in which the sufferer’s night-day cycle is out of sync with the rest of the world. The most common sleep problem of this type is Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder.

What is Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder?

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD) is a problem with the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm. This is the cycling of our sleep and metabolic functions that normally fluctuates in sync with night and day. For example, for most people, body temperature decreases at night and increases during the day. We tend to get sleepy around 10 p.m., and wake up around 6 a.m. (I said “tend to”!)


But for some people, the day seems to run on a totally different clock. For people with DSPD, the day is shifted 3-6 hours later. They do not become sleepy until 1 a.m. and do not want to wake up until 10 a.m. It’s a problem if they need to wake up at 6 a.m. to go to school or to work. So they tend to feel tired and sluggish throughout the day. Then night comes but they can’t fall asleep! For all appearances, the person with DSPD is suffering from insomnia, or some other sleep problem.

DSPD generally starts in adolescence or young adulthood. According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, DSPD occurs in 7-16 percent of young people. About 10 percent of my teen sleep coaching clients who complain of insomnia actually have DSPD. These teenagers often describe themselves as “night owls”.

Paying attention only to panel B of this figure, notice that the sleep time for a person with DSPD is four hours later than normal.

Bright light therapy works like this. For the patient with DSPD in this figure, they sit in front of a bright light box starting at around noon. They stay there for 1-2 hours. They repeat this pattern for 2 days. Then the hour that they sit in front of the box is advanced (moved earlier) by an hour for another two days.

Bright light therapy re-sets the internal body clock earlier and earlier until the patient is waking up at the “normal time”, say 6 a.m.

Bright Light Therapy TOO Bright?

These light boxes are very intense. Some people complain that the lights are too bright and they quit the therapy because the experience is too unpleasant.

It turns out that when bright light therapy is combined with other therapies such as cognitive behavior therapy, a less intense light box may be adequate to treat the problem.

The color of the light also turns out to be important. Light at the blue-green end of the spectrum is more effective at achieving the desired result. This type of light may not feel as harsh as intense white light.bright light therapy 3

Light during the day, dark at night

Light therapy alone will not treat DSPD. The patient may also need to break some bad habits. For example, electronic devices with screens need to be turned off in the evening, ideally two hours or more before bed. This change in behavior may be easier said than done for some young people. The problem is that exposure to the blue-spectrum light at night can undo the effects of the light training in the morning.

Cup of Joe? No.

People with DSPD also need to be careful about caffeine consumption. Coffee and other caffeinated beverages should be avoided during the four hours prior to bed time. Energy-dense foods, especially ones high in sugar, are stimulating and should be avoided in the evening. This may pose a problem for teenagers who are fond of dessert.

What about exercise?

It’s absolutely essential for health, but not in the evening! Especially with intense exercise, people find it much more difficult to “wind down” when they’ve exercised too close to bedtime. I recommend adjusting the schedule to get exercise done in the morning.bright light therapy 2

Treat other conditions

Many teenagers also suffer from anxiety and depression. The relationship between sleep problems and psychic distress are complex. It’s difficult to know sometimes which came first, the sleep problem or the distress. One thing is for certain: sleep problems make psychic distress worse and vice versa! I recommend getting help for anxiety and depression if possible. As I mentioned before, cognitive behavioral therapy combined with light therapy is effective. If the patient has the time and the motivation, talking therapy can help solve both sleep and mood problems.


  • Bright light therapy is an effective treatment for Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder
  • Avoid screen time at night!
  • Exercise regularly, but do it early in the day
  • Avoid caffeine and energy-dense foods at night
  • Pay attention to anxiety and mood problems



Is ADHD Actually a Sleep Problem?

Kids with ADHD sleep less well than other kids. Why is this?

Before we address this question, let’s back up and ask some preliminary questions:

A study published in the June issue of the Journal of Sleep Research presents some evidence that might help answer these questions.

These Danish investigators found that there is something funny about the way kids diagnosed with ADHD sleep. There are some notable and very important features of this study. The first has to do with the way researchers recruited families to participate.

The patients

Parents and pediatricians referred children to a clinic because of problems with attention. None of them had a diagnosis of ADHD. They filled out questionnaires and agreed to let their children have sleep studies. They did all of this before they had a diagnosis. In other words, the subjects were “blinded” to their placement in the study. This type of blinding helps remove any unconscious bias the parents may have had when answering the questions. By the end of the study, investigators had data from 76 children, average age nine. That’s not a huge study, but it is the largest study of ADHD sleep patterns to date.


The study

ADHD sleep 2
ADHD sleep and the brain

Parents kept a 1-week sleep diary, logging hours of sleep and various other data points. Then investigators fitted children with take-home sleep study (polysomnography) machines. Though not the most comfortable devices, most children tolerate them well. The machines measure brain wave activity, breathing and oxygen levels, among other things. Finally, researchers invited the children to a sleep lab to perform a Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT). It’s a long name for a test that simply measures how long it takes you to fall asleep when you take naps during the day.

The results

The investigators also diagnostic tests for other disorders, such as autism, anxiety, and depression. They also performed intelligence tests and excluded children who scored an IQ less than 70. Investigators did not explain why they excluded mentally retarded children from the study. No part of the exams required any cognitive ability on the part of the child at all.

It turned out that 55 percent of the children with ADHD had some other diagnosis as well, called a “co-morbidity.” Before the study started, the investigators had guessed that children with multiple diagnoses would have more trouble sleeping.

This was not the case.ADHD sleep 3

To their surprise, investigators found that children with multiple diagnoses had the same sleeping patterns as children with only an ADHD diagnosis.

Shorter Sleep

Children with ADHD did not sleep as long as children in the control group. On average the 76 children with ADHD slept 501.9 minutes (about 8 hours and 20 minutes). Control children slept an average of 543.6 minutes (just over 9 hours).

Children in the ADHD had more sleep cycles (6.2) than the controls (4.4). In other words, the rise and fall of sleep, also called “sleep architecture” was significantly different.

It takes 10 minutes longer for children with ADHD to fall asleep at night, compared with control children.

By contrast, when taking the MSLT test, children with ADHD fell asleep faster, suggesting they are sleepier during the day despite being reported as more hyperactive and restless.

Taken together, these results suggest that the sleep of children with a diagnosis of ADHD may sleep differently than other children. What does this mean?

Is ADHD a problem with the part of the brain that controls attention and alertness? This has been the theory for decades. This theory is the basis of ADHD treatment with stimulants.

Sleep is more complex than this. Many parts of the brain are involved. Could it be that the symptoms of ADHD are caused by some other oddity in the way the brains of ADHD kids work?

ADHD Sleep TheoryADHD sleep 4

The results of this study are interesting, but raise more questions than they answer. At the end of the paper, investigators admitted that “it remains unclear whether sleep disturbances in ADHD are an aetiological (causal) factor, a co-morbid disorder or the result of an overlapping neurodevelopmental disorder of the brain.” In other words, the investigators cannot say whether kids with ADHD sleep poorly, or whether kids who sleep poorly have symptoms of ADHD.

What Imbalance?

This study provides another nail in the coffin of the “chemical imbalance theory“. This theory stated stated that ADHD was caused by too little stimulatory neurotransmitter in the brain.

Investigators also avoided making an obvious point: If symptoms of ADHD correlates with a sleep disorder, then giving amphetamine-based medications to children probably will not correct the underlying problem. The opposite is more likely. Indeed, insomnia is a well-known side effect of Ritalin and other ADHD drugs.

And lack of sleep never helped a distractible child.

What the Heck is Musical Head Banging?

I thought I knew what musical head banging was.  I was wrong.musical head banging 1

In 1995 I won a musical head banging contest at my niece’s bat mitzvah. As I recall the DJ played “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. I did what any student of 70’s hair band culture would have done. I planted my feet firmly in place, raised my right arm, saying “I Love You” in American Sign Language (cuz rock n’ roll is all about the love, dontcha know?) Then I proceeded to make like I was hammering finishing nails into a two-by-four. With my forehead. Brother Beavis will demonstrate.

I was so naive. That was NOT musical head banging.

Apparently, musical head banging has something to do with your baby’s sleep. It is claimed by some “experts” that if you play music to your baby as she falls asleep in the crib, she may develop musical head banging. And this is bad.

I learned this from in an article entitled “Sleep Problems”


You might think letting your baby fall asleep to music is a good thing, but old habits sleep hard. It could actually negative affect their sleep.

It sounds harmless, but letting baby drift off listening to music might have a few consequences. Studies show constantly relying on certain sounds to go to sleep can create a need to listen to music.

So, if they’re away from home and don’t have access to that music, baby might not be able to sleep without listening to it first.

This could lead to musical head-banging. Music could make your child more likely to bang their head against solid objects.

If you think music isn’t the right choice for your child, experts suggest a white noise machine. It will drown out household sounds and provide a quiet environment for them to sleep in.

You can even find some apps for them on your smartphone.

A graphic in the accompanying video suggests that is the source of this information. I followed the lead and found this article from s2015. It states, in part,

[H]eadbanging (sic) is the habit some children have of banging their heads against solid objects. If you have a child who bangs his head, you may notice it’s more prevalent when falling asleep or when listening to music, notes the University of Michigan Health System. That means headbanging could be exacerbated when your little one listens to music to fall asleep.

I was floored. I’ve been a sleep consultant for a long time and I’ve never heard of this phenomenon before. According to her bio, the author of the piece, whom I will not name, “specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.” I wonder if she’s ever had a baby?

Not finished with my search, I checked the references at the bottom of the article. There was one piece that did indeed come from the University of Michigan Health System web site. The subject of the article was “Bad Habits/Annoying Behavior“. Here is what this piece had to say about head banging:

Body rocking is when (sic) a child rhythmically rocks while either sitting or resting on their knees or elbows. This behavior usually starts around age six months and disappears by age two. Most children rock for 15 minutes or less. Like head banging, it occurs while listening to music or falling asleep.

That’s it. How did we get from here to “Music could make your child more likely to bang their head against solid objects”?

I’m afraid what happened here is the internet version of a game of telephone. The message got so garbled by the last call that this television station in Illinois ended up giving some pretty dumb advice to parents.

What is Musical Head Banging, Really?

It’s one of two things. Babies rock and bang their heads sometimes when they are tired. It is a sort of self-soothing technique. It usually lasts no more than 15 minutes. Other babies bang their heads as a kind of what I call “Stupid Baby Trick”. Bonking her head makes the baby hear this hollow ‘thud’ sound that she didn’t expect. Any unexpected sensation is interesting to a baby. She’ll keep doing it because, well, it’s interesting. The same thing happens when she pulls her own hair (it HURTS!) or gags herself with her own fist.musical head banging 2

Eventually the child gets bored and the behavior stops. But sometimes the baby keeps the behavior going if it gets a big reaction from a caregiver. It is as if the baby says to herself “I’m getting bored with this head banging thing, but look what a reaction I get from mom! I’m gonna keep this going!”

Can music become a negative sleep association?

Something else the Illinois article said caught my attention. It was the suggestion that that music at bedtime might interfere with sleep: “Studies show constantly relying on certain sounds to go to sleep can create a need to listen to music (emphasis added).” What were these studies?

I went to the online National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health, affectionately known as “PubMed“. I performed every search I could think of combining “music” and “sleep disturbance” or “sleep associations”. I could find none. There are no such studies. Playing music in the nursery does not interfere with the process of a baby falling asleep or staying asleep. In fact, one of the sources cited at the livestrong article actively recommended music to help a baby fall asleep.

Unless of course you decide to blast “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in the nursery.

Are South Koreans Happy? Well, Do They Sleep?

Is there any relationship between sleep and happiness?

It is known that depressed people often sleep too much. Other depressed people have a hard time sleeping. We also know that, on the whole, happy sleep better. Or maybe it is that people who sleep better are happier. We’ll return to this question later. For now, we report the results of a study out of South Korea that asked over 72,000 teenagers about their lives. The survey asked the teens about their lifestyles, especially diet, exercise, and sleep.

Happiness in Korean Teens

The Korea Youth Risk Behavior Web-based Survey (KYRBWS) has been administered to middle- and high-school students every year beginning in 2005. The results of the happiness study were based on the 9th study, administered in June-July 2013.

Students were asked at random to participate in the study. They were given the option to decline, including at the beginning of the survey.

A single question was asked about the teen’s happiness: ‘In general, how would you describe your happiness?’ Predefined responses were ‘very happy’, ‘a little happy’, ‘neutral’, ‘a little unhappy’, and ‘very unhappy’.

The investigators note that this single question is good enough to assess the truth of the teen’s overall happiness. Nevertheless, one can ask whether the question could be interpreted as “are you happy today?” as opposed to “are you in general a happy person or not?” It’s a little like asking someone what the whether is like where they live. If it happens to be a beautiful day, I suspect the subject’s feelings about the weather would be more positive than if there were a thunderstorm that day.

Nevertheless, the investigators went ahead, and asked a number of demographic and lifestyle questions.


sleep and happiness 2
Inseparable, like sleep and hapiness

The survey then asked a number of questions about diet, exercise and health habits. For example, the teens were asked whether they had consumed alcohol or smoked a cigarette in the previous 30 days. If they answered yes, they were classified as a current drinker or smoker. Specific questions were asked about physical activity and fruit consumption.

The students were also asked about screen time, including television watching and video game playing.

Sleep and Happiness

Students were asked about their sleep on both weekdays and weekends. The investigators divided the answers into two groups: students who slept fewer than 8 hours per night, and those that slept more than 8 hours.

The data were analyzed by a statistical device called “adjusted odds ratio”. This is simply the association between an exposure and an outcome. The investigators compared “exposures” such as hours of sleep, to the outcome “happiness”. They took the group of teens who described themselves as “very unhappy” and assigned them the value of 1. If more sleep meant the teen rated herself as happier, the odds ratio would be greater than one. If the correlation ran in the other direction, the odds ratio might be less than one.

Korean Teens are not very happy

sleep and happiness 3
Sleep and Happiness, together again

There were a couple of interesting observations coming out of this study. The proportion of teens in the study who reported that they were very happy or a little happy with their lives was only 58.2%. In comparison, 94.8% of American adults say they are very or a little happy. That’s a fairly stunning difference. The investigators believe the happiness gap can be explained by the cultural difference between “collectivist” societies like Korea’s, and an “individualistic” society such as in the US. The truth is probably more complex than this.

Korean Teens don’t sleep a lot

The survey revealed that Korean teens spend a lot less time asleep than do American Teens. Overall, 21.8% report getting more than 8 hours of sleep on weekdays, and 66.3% sleep more than 8 hours on weekends. By contrast about half of American teens get 8 hours or more of sleep on weekdays, with substantially larger percentages on weekends.  Again, the reasons for the disparity are probably complex.

More sleep, more happiness

sleep and happiness 4
The picture of sleep and happiness

The investigators found that the more Korean teens slept, the more likely they were to rate themselves as happy. If a girl reported more than 8 hours of sleep on weeknights, the odds ratio was 3.00 that she’d rate herself “very happy”. In other words, she was statistically three-times more likely to call herself “very happy” as opposed to “very unhappy”. For a boy, the odds ratio was 2.32. It’s worth mentioning here that odds ratios of more than 2.00 are thought of as meaningful. Even though lower odds ratios may be real and statistically significant, anything the difference might not be “clinically significant”. In other words, lower odds ratios make you say “so what? In real life you can’t really see much difference!”

On weekends, the odds ratios were smaller. Girls who slept more than 8 hours had an odds ratio of 1.63 for self-rating “very happy”. For boys the odds ratio was 1.72. This result suggests that more “unhappy” Korean teens were sleeping >8 hours on weekends, possibly in an attempt to make up their sleep debt.

Sleep and Happiness; Chicken and Egg

A big weakness of this study is that it shows only associations. It cannot show causes. So at the end of the day we cannot really know why Korean teens who sleep more rate themselves happier. Are they happier because they sleep more? Or do they sleep more because they are happier?

Looking at the study as a whole, however, we can begin to unravel the “which came first?” problem. It turns out that other positive health habits correlate with happiness as well, such as healthy eating and exercise. And negative health habits such as smoking and drinking tend to correlate with unhappiness.  Again, we can’t really be sure which came first, but the results as a whole are compelling.


  • Sleep and Happiness in Korean teens are associated with one another.
  • Less sleep is associated with smoking, drinking and less happiness.
  • More sleep may help teens feel better about themselves.

How Many Hours of Sleep Should a 17-year Old Get?

Case Study: A mother of a 17-year old high-school senior contacted me . She was concerned that the young man wasn’t getting enough sleep. He played a sport every season, and got decent grades. He had friends and did not demonstrate any evidence of behavior or mood changes. The problem was that he appeared to sleep until the afternoon every Saturday. How many hours of sleep should a 17-year old get?

How many hours of sleep should a 17-year old get?

The answer to the question is fairly easy: it is 9 1/2 hours, according to most sleep experts. When I told this to the high schooler who is the subject of this case study, he gave a fairly typical reply:

“Ha. Ha-ha. Ha-HA-ha.”

I get that a lot.

The sarcasm, not meant to be rude, was his way of expressing that there was not a chance in hell he’d be able to get that much sleep. There simply were not enough hours in the day for him to get everything done and to sleep 9 1/2 hours!

Let’s call him “Nate”. A typical weekday ran as follows: Nate’s alarm would go off at 7:30 am. He’d take approximately 10 minutes to get out of bed and stumble to the bathroom. Breakfast for Nate consisted of a protein smoothie. He told me this had been his breakfast of choice for as long as he could remember. Nate never had been much of a big breakfast eater.

The most important meal of the day

That wasn’t a bad choice. I was glad to hear he got some protein in before school. Nate is 5 feet, 8 inches, 140 lbs. He’s a long-distance track athlete. Nate probably wouldn’t have made it to lunch block without something in his system.

How many hours of sleep should a 17-year old get 2
How many hours of sleep should a 17-year old get? Risk-taking requires rest!

Good diet is one of the three legs upon which all of health stands. The others are exercise and sleep(!). Some experts add stress reduction as a fourth leg.

Nate’s school is 1.1 miles from his home. He almost never walked or rode his bike. His mother drove him. This gave Nate a time cushion to help him get out of the house. Nate is lucky in this regard. Teenagers who need to catch a bus have tighter time constraints. If they miss the bus, they are sore out of luck, so they have to work harder at going out of the house.

If the teenager is old enough to drive, I hope they got enough sleep the night prior. It is well known that teen sleepiness is associated with accidents during the morning drive.

First block in Nate’s day starts at 8:30 am, one hour after he wakes up.

Nate Hits the Road

School lets out at 2:20 pm. Nate changes into running shorts and runs with his friends to track practice. He will not be home until 6:00 pm. Noah eats before showering, much to the chagrin of his mother and his younger brother. This particular issue is beyond the scope of our consult!

By the time Nate has eaten and showered, it is 7:oo pm and time for homework. The average high school student has 3.5 hours of homework per night. Nate is no different.

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How many hours of sleep should a 17-year old get? This kid may need a lot!

At 10:30 pm, homework done, Nate is finally able to text his girlfriend, which he will do for about one hour (or at least, that is how time he will admit to!)

Nate’s home is one where phones are permitted in the bedroom. Both Nate, his brother, and his mother, all keep their phones by the bedside. Here’s a possible area where I can intervene. Technology in the bedroom is associated with reduced sleep and increased daytime sleepiness in teens.

By my calculation, the maximum amount of sleep Nate would get in a typical night would be 8 hours, 1 1/2 hours less than the recommended amount. My suspicion is that the real number is probably closer to 7 1/2, given that Nate likes to watch YouTube videos and spends a fair amount of time on Facebook.

By the weekend, Nate has accumulated a sleep debt. Naturally, if he does not need to wake up for school, he will stay in bed. It is not unusual for Nate to wake up between 11:30 am and noon.

How many hours of sleep should a 17-year old get? The Fix

I had a number of suggestions for Nate.

For the average sleepy teenager, there are factors that cannot be changed, and a few that can. The start time for school should be later, but for now, 8:30 am remains too early for the average teen.

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How many hours of sleep should a 17-year old get? Girlfriend time is tough to negotiate

Sports are important to Nate, and I certainly would not recommend that he cut out track from his life. I have clients who play sports and participate in other after school activities as well. In these cases I recommend cutting out some activities. I call this “simplifying” the life of the teenager. Simplification is sometimes easier said than done.

Do homework during school hours

I asked Nate if he had a free block, formerly known as “study hall”. When I was in high school, very little studying got done in study hall. These days, over-scheduled students are taking advantage of study hall to get their homework done. It’s not possible for Nate to do all 3.5 hours of his homework during the 50 minute block, but it’s better than nothing. Nate admitted that it would be painful, but he could do the writing-intensive part of his homework during free block.

Bedrooms are for beds, not for phones

I also suggested that Nate’s family make a rule about technology in bedrooms. No intervention like this will work unless everyone else in the home is on board as well. There were no televisions in the bedrooms. This alone was a terrific start. The next step was to get everyone to agree to leave their devices in the kitchen, plugged in.

I left it to Nate and his mother to negotiate the time for plugging in the phone. I was a high school boy once. I know what this is like. I didn’t speak to my girlfriend nearly as often as kids these days do (I had to share the one land line we had with three sisters and my parents). But I probably would be texting her if I had a smart phone back then.

Get Back to Basics

It never hurts to make sure that you are eating well and getting plenty of exercise. By eating well, I mean something fairly specific:How many hours of sleep should a 17-year old get 5

  • Meat and vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Some fruit
  • Starches rarely
  • Sugar NEVER

Easier said than done, right? A growing body of evidence is supporting these basic guidelines.

Nate has already gotten the vigorous exercise part covered. If your child is not doing any exercise, I recommend they get out and move. It doesn’t really matter what they do as long as they do something regularly.

Now that you know how many hours of sleep should a 17-year old get, the last piece is convincing the school system. Later start times have been shown to show benefits and few down sides. If an effort to start school later is not underway in your district, I recommend getting one started!

And if you need a sleep coach, I can help!

Infant Wearables: Good or Bad Idea?

In the age of the Fitbit, it is only a matter of time before devices designed for babies appear on the market. There are a whole bunch available now. There is a pacifier that doubles as a thermometer. You can buy a device to prevent heat stroke in your baby. There is even a GPS tracking devices for babies. The particular segment of the infant wearables market that concerns us here are the devices that measure infant blood oxygen levels. The unstated reason for buying such devices is the prevention of death by SIDS, or other sleep-related infant deaths.

Infant Wearables in the Age of Back-to-Sleep

These devices are based on a well-tested technology from the world of medicine called pulse oximetry. The “pulse ox” works by shining a red light onto the skin and simultaneously measuring the wave-length of the light that bounces back. The device then calculates the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. Such devices have been used in even tiny babies for many years. Now, several companies are marketing these devices for parents worried about SIDS.

Do they work? Do infant wearables really prevent SIDS?

These are obviously two separate questions. We’ll tackle them one at a time.

To address the question of whether home pulse oximeters work, a few studies have been published. The study that best answers the question was published the the UK in 1991.

The British investigators focused on a group of babies that recently had been discharged from hospitals with apparent life-threatening events. Translated into English, the babies had turned blue at home, either because of choking or lung disease related to prematurity. This was a good population to study. The chance that these babies would actually need the alarm was greater than the general population of babies. Most of these babies had some kind of medical problem that made them more vulnerable to dropping their oxygen levels. This means the investigators were not measuring rare events and it would be unlikely that the number of events measured would be too small to give meaningful results.

The investigators also gave monitors to parents who had already lost a baby to SIDS.

The study looked at the number of events that the wearable devices picked up. Importantly, they also looked at false alarms, and measured side-effects of the devices, such as blisters and other skin burns.

The Results

A total of 201 babies were monitored for 30 months. Only 19 families withdrew from the study before it ended.

The pulse oximeters recorded 81 events, of which 52 were true episodes of blueness. No episodes were missed. In other words, the sensitivity of the device was 100%. Any time a test shows a 100% sensitivity (no true positives missed), there is going to be a substantial false positive rate. For these parents, that means an alarm going off for no reason. Sometimes the sensor would move out of position or fall off, activating the alarm. Sometimes it was a true false alarm. The device would go off when nothing was wrong.  In the UK study, false alarms happened about once every 4 days.infant wearables 2

Very few of the babies got skin redness from the red light source and none were burned.

Four babies actually died during the study. One sibling of a SIDS victim died while the infant wearables were in calibration mode. That is to say they were not turned on correctly. The cause of death was ruled SIDS as well. The other three babies died of the severe congenital heart and lung problems that got them included in the study.

There are two important take-aways from this study. Pulse oximeters work well. They will catch every dip in a baby’s blood oxygen level. But the devices cannot prevent death in severely ill babies. As was demonstrated catastrophically in this study, the devices won’t work if they are not turned on.

Infant Wearables and SIDS

The second question we asked was whether these devices can prevent your baby from dying of SIDS. The honest answer is “nobody knows”. In the UK study, the only baby to die of SIDS was not wearing an alarm. One other sibling of a SIDS victim in the study had a substantial dip in her oxygen and was later found to have meningitis. The answer remains open. We simply do not know if infant wearables prevent SIDS.infant wearables 3

But wait! Didn’t this study show that the alarm always goes off when the baby’s oxygen dips too low? If so, won’t any baby in danger of SIDS set off the alarm?

It’s a reasonable question. The answer is “yes, you are probably right”. And yet, we simply do not know because the studies have not proven the point to a degree of scientific certainty.

The Question You Didn’t Ask

It’s clear that pulse oximeters for use at home are very sensitive. They catch every event. This also means they “catch” events that are not events. Imagine how unbelievably frightening it must be to be awakened in the middle of the night by such an alarm. You cannot be sure if you are answering a false alarm or if you will be dialing 911. The question we didn’t ask at the outset was “do you think infant wearables make you more relaxed, or more anxious?”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has not taken a position on these devices for healthy infants. The organization’s silence probably reflects the absence of scientific evidence on SIDS prevention. Pediatricians disagree as to whether or not it’s a good idea for parents to buy such a device. My recommendation would be to discuss it with your pediatrician before buying.

And if you have any issues or (non-medical) concerns about your baby’s sleep, I’m a sleep consultant.