The broad aim of this proposal is to examine the adolescent circadian (~24-hour) system and its phase shifting responses to light in comparison to adults. Adolescents often report late bedtimes and a tendency to be most alert in the evening, behaviors that are partly driven by the endogenous circadian clock. The circadian cue for sleep and wake initiation is late during the teen years. Unfortunately, this late sleep pattern coincides with the early start time of high school. Thus, many adolescents in high school (aged 14-17 years) are faced with a conflicting biological drive to fall asleep late and a social drive to wake early for school. The resulting sleep restriction is associated with a number of negative outcomes, including poor academic grades, an increased risk for depressed mood, and decrements in daytime alertness. Bright light is able to phase shift (reset) the circadian clock, and thus could help youngsters adjust to their early school sleep/wake schedule. Commercially available light boxes could be used at home for treatment; however, it is essential to have a phase response curve (PRC) to light to know the optimal times of bright light administration and avoidance to produce the maximum phase shift in the desired direction. PRCs graphically illustrate the phase shifting response to a stimulus (e.g., bright light) when it is presented at different times across the 24-hour day. Currently, there are several PRCs to light for young adult humans, but no light PRC exists for adolescent humans. It remains untested whether the adult light PRC is appropriate to guide light treatment in adolescents.
We aim to generate a PRC to light for adolescents aged 14-17 years and a PRC to light for adults aged 35 to 45 years. By doing so, we will examine the hypothesis that adolescents manifest smaller phase advance responses and/or larger phase delay responses to light compared to adults. We will also examine the hypothesis that adolescents manifest a longer free-running circadian period compared to adults. Participants will complete two counterbalanced 5-day laboratory sessions. Each session begins and ends with salivary melatonin sampling to determine the phase shift of the circadian clock. In between, participants keep an ultradian light/dark schedule (sleep for 2 h and wake for 2 h) for 3 days. In one session, no stimulus is given and the circadian system free-runs yielding the endogenous circadian period. In the other, a bright light stimulus is turned on once per day at various points of the circadian cycle. Resulting phase shifts after bright light ar corrected for an individual's free-running period, and are plotted relative to light administration time to generate the PRCs. This study may further our understanding of circadian factors associated with late sleep patterns during adolescence. Furthermore, PRCs to light generated from this study will have direct and practical applications for phase shifting circadian rhythms and treating circadian-based sleep disorders in these age groups.

Public Health Relevance

This research project will help us understand late sleep timing during adolescence, a common behavioral change that can lead to insufficient sleep. Potentially serious consequences of insufficient sleep include mood problems, driving while drowsy, and making poor or risky decisions. Teenagers who suffer from Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD) may experience an exaggerated form of this late sleep behavior and its consequences. Basic knowledge of processes controlling sleep and wake that are unique to adolescence can help target better methods to treat teenagers and improve their sleep and waking behavior.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BBBP-T (05))
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Twery, Michael
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Rush University Medical Center
Other Clinical Sciences
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Crowley, Stephanie J; Wolfson, Amy R; Tarokh, Leila et al. (2018) An update on adolescent sleep: New evidence informing the perfect storm model. J Adolesc 67:55-65
Crowley, Stephanie J; Fournier, Chelsea L; Eastman, Charmane I (2018) Late bedtimes prevent circadian phase advances to morning bright light in adolescents. Chronobiol Int 35:1748-1752
Crowley, Stephanie J; Eastman, Charmane I (2018) Free-running circadian period in adolescents and adults. J Sleep Res 27:e12678
Crowley, Stephanie J; Eastman, Charmane I (2017) Human Adolescent Phase Response Curves to Bright White Light. J Biol Rhythms 32:334-344
Crowley, Stephanie J; Suh, Christina; Molina, Thomas A et al. (2016) Estimating the dim light melatonin onset of adolescents within a 6-h sampling window: the impact of sampling rate and threshold method. Sleep Med 20:59-66
Crowley, Stephanie J (2016) Sleep behavior across the lifespan: How a model can expand our current understanding. Sleep Med Rev 28:1-4
Crowley, Stephanie J; Cain, Sean W; Burns, Angus C et al. (2015) Increased Sensitivity of the Circadian System to Light in Early/Mid-Puberty. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 100:4067-73
Gradisar, Michael; Crowley, Stephanie J (2013) Delayed sleep phase disorder in youth. Curr Opin Psychiatry 26:580-5