BOSCOBEL, Wis. — A study being conducted at Boscobel Elementary School this fall examines the connection between classroom lighting and children’s sleep and well-being.
School and Boscobel Area School District officials are working with the New York-based Light and Health Research Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, whose researchers will spend the coming months examining how tweaks to classroom lighting affect students’ sleep.
“We really think that lighting can play an important role in helping children to sleep better,” said Daniel Frering, the center’s education program director.
The study makes use of newly installed LED lighting at the elementary school. In half of the classes, the lighting is comparable to what students would experience in a typical school. The rest have an enhanced, slightly brighter lighting.
From September through December, participating students will fill out weekly questionnaires examining how well they are sleeping and how alert they feel.
The study builds on research into circadian entrainment — the syncing of a person’s biological clock with the 24 hours of the day. A person’s biological clock typically runs slightly more than 24 hours and needs to be reset daily, Frering said.
“What does that, primarily, is bright light, so when you get up, you go outside, you receive bright light for a period of time, and that resets your clock,” Frering said.
He said children naturally want to go to sleep and wake up later but have to get up early for school.
By tweaking students’ lighting, researchers seek to give them the light they need to reset their biological clocks.
Laboratory studies have shown that the bright lighting helps entrain circadian rhythms. The Boscobel study seeks to examine whether that holds true in the field.
“When we’re done, we hope we will find that it has made a difference, and then all the classrooms will be set to this enhanced circadian entraining lighting,” Frering said.
Boscobel District Administrator Lisa Wallin-Kapinus has been in education for going on 27 years and said she has noticed students coming to school more tired in recent years.
So when she was approached by researchers about the project, she wanted to be part of it.
“It was really interesting to me to hear about, is the lighting that we’re using in schools contributing to any of that and can it help our kids be more awake in the school day,” Wallin-Kapinus said.
She said she hopes the study helps educators learn how to use their lighting in a way that is most conducive to student learning and different ways they can help students sleep better beyond classroom lighting.
Researchers believe the enhanced lighting will help students sleep better, and students who sleep better do better in school.
“With this study, we can say, ‘Yeah, we’ve shown that those results will hold in your school,’ or we will find that they don’t, but that’s the way science works,” Frering said.