Child Development and Education

Sleep problems among adolescents easily treatable with ‘SleepingSmart’

4 May 2016

Many adolescents struggle with a chronic lack of sleep. This can negatively affect their cognitive functioning and, by extension, their academic performance, as well as lead to problems like depression, anxiety and even symptoms of ADHD. In his PhD dissertation, Ed de Bruin shows that sleep problems among adolescents can be treated quite effectively and relatively easily using the 'SlimSlapen' therapy, which he helped develop. He will be defending his thesis on Friday 20 May at the University of Amsterdam (UvA).

De Bruin's goal was to develop an accessible and effective treatment for insomnia (in other words, difficulty falling asleep, maintaining sleeping, or unrestorative sleep) among adolescents. He developed 'SlimSlapen (SleepingSmart)', a treatment based on cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBTI) that is available in face-to-face group sessions or online. 'SlimSlapen' is a short treatment protocol (sleeping programme) which also has a preventative effect, and helps young people to improve their sleeping habits through exercises. The treatment aims to change both bad 'sleep hygiene' and dysfunctional thoughts about sleep. It is not necessarily a matter of sleeping more, but sleeping better and more peacefully.

A study conducted among 116 adolescents suffering from insomnia revealed that both the group and online versions of the ‘SlimSlapen’ treatment are effective, with a moderate to high impact on variables such as sleep efficiency and sleep onset latency, in the short and longer term up to one year after the treatment. On balance, the group therapy yielded slightly better results than the online therapy, although participants in both groups achieved more or less the same outcomes individually. The treatment also resulted in a reduction in symptoms of psychopathology, including depression, anxiety problems and symptoms of ADHD.

De Bruin investigated the impact of online 'SlimSlapen' sessions on the cognitive functioning of 32 adolescents with primary insomnia. He predominantly found improvements relating to visual-spatial processing and phonological working memory, though not to visual-spatial working memory.

Preparing for sleep

Bad sleep hygiene can also play a role in sleep problems. 'You can only get a good night's sleep if certain conditions are met. This is referred to in the sleep research community as ‘sleep hygiene’, and includes things like avoiding light exposure (especially light from electronic devices) in the two hours before going to bed, having a regular bedtime, getting enough exercise during the day, only using your bed to sleep (and not, for example, to do homework in bed) and so on. My research findings demonstrate the importance of this. Better sleep hygiene had a positive effect on sleeping problems among adolescents.'

Sleep as a preventative measure

'The improvements I found that 'SlimSlapen' brings about in adolescents' sleep and cognitive functioning underline the importance of a large-scale rollout in clinical practice of this relatively brief treatment protocol,' says De Bruin. 'In addition, it ties in with Sarphati Amsterdam's current initiative to tackle obesity, the screenings for mental health issues undertaken at secondary schools by jijenjegezondheid.nl ('you and your health'), and the Amsterdam Approach to Healthy Weight ('Amsterdamse Aanpak Gezond Gewicht'). After all, sleep has a preventative effect across all sorts of other areas of your life, such as obesity and poor academic performance.'

Details

E.J. de Bruin, Insomnia Treatment for Adolescents: Effectiveness of Group- and Internet Therapy for Sleep, Psychopathology, Cognitive Functioning, and Societal Costs. Supervisors: Professor S.M. Bögels and Professor F.J. Oort. Co-supervisor: Dr A.M. Meijer.

Time and location

The defence ceremony will take place on Friday 20 May at 11:00. Location: the UvA Aula, Singel 411, Amsterdam.

Published by  UvA Persvoorlichting