Effect of Light Flashes vs Sham Therapy During Sleep With Adjunct Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on Sleep Quality Among Adolescents: A Randomized Clinical Trial | Adolescent Medicine | JAMA Network Open | JAMA Network
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    Original Investigation
    September 25, 2019

    Effect of Light Flashes vs Sham Therapy During Sleep With Adjunct Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on Sleep Quality Among Adolescents: A Randomized Clinical Trial

    Author Affiliations
    • 1Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California
    • 2Palo Alto University, Palo Alto, California
    JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(9):e1911944. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.11944
    Key Points español 中文 (chinese)

    Question  Can adjustment of circadian timing through light flash therapy during sleep increase total sleep time in teenagers?

    Findings  In this double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial of 102 adolescents, light flash therapy alone was ineffective. When delivered in combination with a cognitive behavioral therapy meant to encourage an earlier bedtime, the combination of light flash therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy significantly and stably increased total sleep time by nearly 45 minutes per night.

    Meaning  Combination light flash therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective tool to increase sleep time and combat sleep loss in teenagers.


    Importance  Owing to biological, behavioral, and societal factors, sleep duration in teenagers is often severely truncated, leading to pervasive sleep deprivation.

    Objective  To determine whether a novel intervention, using both light exposure during sleep and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), would increase total sleep time in teenagers by enabling them to go to sleep earlier than usual.

    Design, Setting, and Participants  This double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial, conducted between November 1, 2013, and May 31, 2016, among 102 adolescents enrolled full-time in grades 9 to 12, who expressed difficulty going to bed earlier and waking up early enough, was composed of 2 phases. In phase 1, participants were assigned to receive either 3 weeks of light or sham therapy and were asked to try to go to sleep earlier. In phase 2, participants received 4 brief CBT sessions in addition to a modified light or sham therapy. All analyses were performed on an intent-to-treat basis.

    Interventions  Light therapy consisted of receiving a 3-millisecond light flash every 20 seconds during the final 3 hours of sleep (phase 1) or final 2 hours of sleep (phase 2). Sham therapy used an identical device, but delivered 1 minute of light pulses (appearing in 20-second intervals, for a total of 3 pulses) per hour during the final 3 hours of sleep (phase 1) or 2 hours of sleep (phase 2). Light therapy occurred every night during the 4-week intervention. Cognitive behavioral therapy consisted of four 50-minute in-person sessions once per week.

    Main Outcomes and Measures  Primary outcome measures included diary-based sleep times, momentary ratings of evening sleepiness, and subjective measures of sleepiness and sleep quality.

    Results  Among the 102 participants (54 female [52.9%]; mean [SD] age, 15.6 [1.1] years), 72 were enrolled in phase 1 and 30 were enrolled in phase 2. Mixed-effects models revealed that light therapy alone was inadequate in changing the timing of sleep. However, compared with sham therapy plus CBT alone, light therapy plus CBT significantly moved sleep onset a mean (SD) of 50.1 (27.5) minutes earlier and increased nightly total sleep time by a mean (SD) of 43.3 (35.0) minutes. Light therapy plus CBT also resulted in a 7-fold greater increase in bedtime compliance than that observed among participants receiving sham plus CBT (mean [SD], 2.21 [3.91] vs 0.29 [0.76]), as well as a mean 0.55-point increase in subjective evening sleepiness as compared with a mean 0.48-point decrease in participants receiving sham plus CBT as measured on a 7-point sleepiness scale.

    Conclusions and Relevance  This study found that light exposure during sleep, in combination with a brief, motivation-focused CBT intervention, was able to consistently move bedtimes earlier and increase total sleep time in teenagers. This type of passive light intervention in teenagers may lead to novel therapeutic applications.

    Trial Registration  ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT01406691