Then we said, "This is the topic of Lameese Akacem's doctoral dissertation, and is a study being carried out under the aegis of the Sleep and Development Laboratory at the University of Colorado, Boulder," and we mentioned that this research is (at least in part) crowdfunded, and that the deadline for donating to this project is early next week, so if you feel this project is worth supporting you need to act within the next few days.
Timothy Lord for Slashdot: Lameese, I want to ask you about working with kids. Have you worked with kids on this sort of sleep study before?
Lameese: I actually joined the lab in 2011, so I’ve been here for about four and half years now. So I’ve had a lot of experience working with young children running very similar protocols, also different protocols on sleep and doing EEG and things on the lectures in the lab, and so we had a lot of experience with the young children.
Slashdot: Are kids cooperative when it comes to having sensors attached to their body like that?
Lameese: Yeah, they’re surprisingly cooperative and we actually try and make all the aspects of our study very fun for the kids, so whenever we do the chewing we have little puppets that we use to help them, one or two like we will have the puppets chew on corn sticks and try and encourage the kids to do the same, so there are different ways of introducing our study, measures, just to get the kids more comfortable with it before we actually do the data collection.
Slashdot: Now, I have one more question that’s really addressed to both of you: Who should most care about this? There’s been a lot of research into and interest in how light affects our bodies in general, whether it increases cancer rates. One of the things that some people have proposed are problems are things like light pollution, and you can’t avoid most of it, but it sounds like we’re talking about a lot of sources that maybe we can actually control in a household setting?
Monique: I think society at large should really care, I mean this includes parents, healthcare professionals, teachers, grandparents. There is relatively new data showing that the time kids spend with electronic media in early childhood has tripled in the past couple of years, and that young kids are spending about two hours a day using iPads, iPhones, computers, TVs, and what’s also really interesting is that while I don’t have the study itself, there is one article in the New York Times talking about parents using iPads, as a form of spending time with their kids in the evening time; playing games, or reading on the iPad, versus engaging in some other activities.
And most of these conversations have been around the cognitive effects of media, but what’s most interesting for us and we think it’s something that is incredibly important for overall health and development is the actual light that is emitted from these devices, especially in the evening time. So because we know light suppresses melatonin, and that actually makes the kid not ready for bed and more alert when your parents are expecting them to try to fall asleep, and also disrupts sleep during the middle of the night, so kids may not be getting enough sleep or they may not be getting good quality sleep and those kinds of sleep problems are linked to both short term and long term health and developmental problems.
Slashdot: And Lameese, I have realized that we’re talking about a study that you are anticipating doing at this point. But do you have any expectations about what sort of outcome that you’re going to end up seeing? Do you have the idea that this is a pretty significant factor in children’s sleep?
Lameese: I definitely think so, especially from what we know from the research in adults. We know that as adults age, the light can actually effect them to greater extents and that’s just because the lens in the eye becomes less clear with age, so we expect young children to have more clear lenses, so they are probably going to be more sensitive to light, so actually I expect to see this affect children to a great extent.
Slashdot: What is the next step, what happens upcoming in your timeline in preparation for this experiment?
Lameese: So in preparation for this experiment, probably next month, we’re going to start recruiting subjects, so we’ll probably go out in the community and try and spread the word about our study and try to get some subjects. We’re going to hoping to start collect data probably in June.
Monique: As Lameese pointed out, melatonin levels are low during the day and then like, increases in the evening hours. And that increase in melatonin tells the brain to be prepared to fall asleep. Not to fall asleep yet, but just getting ready to fall asleep. And that time of melatonin increase varies widely between individuals. Some individuals’ clocks may, say, be prepared to sleep at 7 o’clock in the evening and others not until midnight. And so, the timing of that melatonin onset is one of the primary measures of our study because if the child is exposed to a lot of light in the evening, we would expect the timing of that onset is going to be pushed back and they are not going to be prepared for sleep until a much later time.
Slashdot: Based on what you just said, it seems like you really have to then make a sort of mini-study per individual to figure out what your baseline is.
Monique: Exactly. And so, all the research that we do in my lab is called within subjects, so every individual is his or her own baseline and in Lameese’s study, we will collect data on melatonin onset on alertness and sleep on a baseline day, and then on our baseline night evening, and then on an evening, when they have actually been exposed to this light stimulus.