Healthy sleep leads to healthy brains. Neuroscientists have gotten that message out. But parents, doctors and educators alike have struggled to identify what to do to improve sleep for teenagers. Some have called for delaying school start times or limiting screen time before bed to achieve academic, health and even economic gains.
Still, recent estimates suggest that about half of adolescents in the United States are sleep-deprived. These numbers are alarming because sleep is particularly important during adolescence, a time of significant brain changes that affect learning, self-control and emotional systems. And sleep deficits are even greater in economically disadvantaged youth compared with their more affluent counterparts.
Research from my developmental neuroscience lab shows one solution to the sleep deprivation problem that is deceptively simple: provide teens with a good pillow. Because getting comfortable bedding does not involve technology, expensive interventions or lots of time, it may be particularly beneficial for improving sleep among disadvantaged adolescents.