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Measuring Sleep in Young People: The AMBIENT-Teens Study


Today is World Sleep Day! What better day than today to share some of the research taking place at the University of Edinburgh on sleep and mental health? In this blog, Lorna Caddick shares the aims of the AMBIENT-Teens study, a project which works closely with young people in Scotland to test methods of collecting sleep data and which seeks to inform future research about sleep during important developmental stages in young people.


At the University of Edinburgh there are lots of research projects focused on learning more about sleep. The Ambient Teens Sleep Study is particularly interested in how we measure sleep in young people (aged 8-18).


What happens when we sleep?

When we sleep, we go through cycles of different sleep stages that help our bodies to rest and recover in different ways. Take a look at the image below for an example night sleep.

Light sleep: This is when our brain organises information from the day. It is not possible to remember everything that happened, so we start to create memories of key events.

Deep sleep: This is when our bodies, such as our muscles and organs, repair (especially our brain). This is important to fight against illness and injury.

REM sleep: REM stands for rapid eye movement. This is when we dream. Did you know that our dreams help us to process our emotions?! 

Why are we interested in sleep in young people?

When young people go through puberty, alongside the physical changes such as growing taller, growing body hair and changes to their voice, it is also known that their body clock changes. This means that young people have a natural urge to want to go to bed later. Sleep is important to support healthy development during this time of change, but often young people struggle to get enough good quality sleep. Other stresses such as school work, social plans and family life can influence how well young people sleep. To better understand the relationship between sleep and health during these years, we want to find the most suitable, acceptable and easy-to-use way of measuring young people’s sleep. Finding the most appropriate method will allow us to collect sleep data from lots of young people over longer periods of time, to be able to answer these questions.

To find out more about the research being carried out on the Ambient Teens Sleep Study, take a look at their website here.


How do we measure sleep?

Sleep is really difficult to measure! The best method is in a sleep lab with expert technicians. They use a method called polysomnography that attaches lots of sensors to the body for measurements including muscle and brain activity, breathing rate, heart rate, snoring, airflow through your nose, the level of oxygen in your blood and video and audio recordings. This information can tell us details about which sleep stage you are in. But this method is not easy, convenient or enjoyable for most people, so we use other methods such as sleep diaries and questionnaires, wearables (such as watches, rings and headpieces), and new technology that can measure sleep without needing contact with your body. The Ambient Teens Sleep Study is testing a sleep device that is placed in your bedroom. Young people (aged 8-18) provide feedback on how easy it is to use and if it is acceptable in their bedrooms.

What questions do young people have about their sleep?

As part of the Ambient Teens Sleep Study, we are asking young people to become product reviewers and citizen scientists to learn more about sleep. The product reviewers compare different methods of measuring sleep (watch, sleep diary and contactless sensor). This gives us feedback to learn which method of measuring sleep works best for young people. Our participants have made really creative reports using interview methods and designing posters to display their findings. The citizen scientists complete a mini project using their own sleep data to answer their own question about sleep. Here are some example questions young people have come up with:

·       Does environmental data (such as temperature and humidity) affect my sleep?

·       Do my sleep times changes at the end of the week compared to the start of the week?

·       Does my mood and activity levels influence the quality of my sleep?

We are really excited to see what the next groups of participants come up with.

Want to be involved in research about sleep, young people and mental health?

There are lots of exciting opportunities across Scotland to help us with this research. If you want more information or to take part, please use the links below or contact

Useful Links:

Generation Scotland:

Mental Health and the Body Clock Survey – What do you think research should be looking at?



Lorna Caddick

Lorna is a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh interested in co-production with adolescents to better understand the use of technology in sleep and circadian rhythms with links to mental health and physical activity. She is eager to meaningfully engage the younger generation in research.



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