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Teens Can’t Get to Sleep? VR Could Help!

Posted on January 5th, 2021

Does your teenager wake up tired?  Do they complain that they have trouble falling asleep because they can’t stop thinking? Have you tried every home remedy you can find, with no luck?  There may be another way to help your teen relax and fall asleep at night, using technology that has only become widely available in the last few years.

Medscape Medical News reported on an interesting new paper presented at the Sleep 2020 conference.  Researchers conducted a study on a small group of healthy teens. Some said they suffered from insomnia, others did not have any sleep issues.   On the first night of the study, they had the teens wind down for bed by reading silently.  On the second night, the teens did deep breathing exercises and watched soothing Virtual Reality (VR) graphics to wind down for bed.  With VR, teens fell asleep about 6 minutes faster and experienced a 3% increase in sleep efficiency.  Both teens with insomnia and teens who slept normally saw improved sleep from VR.

The researchers hypothesize that the VR distracts adolescents from excessive worry and rumination before bedtime.  This lets them fall asleep more quickly and achieve more restful sleep.

So, does this mean that, as a good parent concerned about your teen’s sleep hygiene, you need to run out and buy them a $400 VR headset?   Not yet.  Researchers also cautioned that this is a very small study and that VR can have side effects like eye strain, nausea, and dizziness.  More research is needed to find out if the benefits of VR outweigh any risks from using it as a sleep aid.   However, researchers hope this opens up new areas of researching insomnia treatments for children, since currently there are no FDA-approved drugs to treat insomnia in people under the age of 18.

In the meantime, encourage your teens to practice good sleep hygiene, including limiting screens before bed, avoiding afternoon naps, and sticking to a good routine that includes wind downtime before bed.

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