Advance-CTR Pilot Projects Program (2016)
"A Sensor-Enabled Circadian Light System for Improving Student Alertness and Focus in Rhode Island’s Schools"
Co-PI: Eliza Van Reen, PhD
A major challenge facing educators is having well-slept, healthy, alert students in the classroom. A primary reason for this challenge is that a natural, biologically-mediated, circadian phase delay begins in early adolescence, which means that preferred bedtimes, rise times, and times of peak alertness and performance occur later in the day. The ideal solution to this problem is to delay school start times; however, several practical and economic considerations prevent this from occurring in many school districts. A feasible alternative to delaying school start times involves advancing the circadian rhythms of preteens to match the already established school start times. Light is the most potent stimulus to entrain and shift circadian rhythms. The human circadian system is most sensitive to certain spectral characteristics and intensities of light, and recent research shows that static lighting does not adequately address human needs (i.e., enhancing alertness, performance, and productivity across the day). Thus, we propose to develop and deploy sensor/control modules and develop control algorithms that target the delivery of circadian-enhanced light. In other words, these sensors and controls will be working to coordinate multiple factors to deliver light that is designed to phase advance the circadian rhythms of students in RI schools to the early school starts times. In addition, we will test whether these sensor-controlled-circadian-tuned lighting align student’s circadian rhythms with school start times and enhance alertness, mood, and performance compared to students at the same school in a control classroom (i.e., classroom with typical lighting). Insufficient sleep is associated with a host of negative outcomes including sleepiness, inattention, mood disturbances, poor academic performance, behavioral issues, substance use/abuse, and obesity to name a few; thus, we hope to phase advance circadian rhythms of adolescent students in RI, which will allow them to obtain adequate sleep.