top of page

The Sleep Camp Experiment

In this episode we are talking about sleep, and an unusual experiment designed to study it. Imagine going to a camp where the director is a sleep scientist, and you go to bed hooked up to a machine that monitors your brainwaves. We’ll meet Mary Carskadon, the scientist who runs this sleep summer camp, and find out what it’s taught us about the need for Zs.

Dr. Carskadon sent us this list of some of the other interesting things she's learned from over 30 years of Sleep Camp:

1. The need for sleep does not change from age 10 to 17. You need about 9.25 hours.

2. If you don't get enough sleep on a number of nights, naps only help for a few hours that day, but not the next morning.

3. The 'biological clock' tends to get later starting at about middle school years.

4. The clock also gets more sensitive to light that pushes it later at about the same time.

5. The length of the "internal day" driven by the clock becomes a little longer, again at about the age middle school starts.

6. The system that makes us sleepy the longer we are awake (sleep pressure system) slows down so it's easy to stay awake a bit longer.

7. BUT, the same amount of sleep is needed to recover.

8. The clock system and the sleep pressure system work together to help us sleep through the night and stay awake across the day, but the two systems are linked differently in teens, so they may feel sleepier in the middle of the day.

Child sleeping

Want more sleep science? We've got you covered. Explore the videos below to learn how sleep affects, the discovery of our internal clock, and what animal poop can tell us about the need for sleep.

Want to know more about sleep? Want to know about how sleep works and what happens in our brain to make us rest. Our friend Joe Hanson with It’s Okay to Be Smart has you covered. This video dives into how sleep works, the history of different sleep times, and why we aren’t getting enough sleep.

How did we learn about our Internal Clock? In 1962, a cave explorer did a study on himself. What happens if he stayed underground for months without seeing the sun? During his time underground he recorded his brain activity (much like Mary’s Sleep Camp). What his experiment revealed was that his body had kept a regular sleep-waking cycle. This was the discovery of circadian rhythms, our internal clock!

Why Do We Sleep? Animal Edition. Do animals dream? How did sleep evolve? And what can that tell us about ourselves? The Good Stuff looks at how animals sleep as they try to figure out the science behind why we spend a third of our lives asleep. And what can poop tell us about all this? (Yes! There is a poop experiment here, your welcome.)

Want to Learn More About Sleep Camp?

Here are some links for further reading:

Tell us what kind of summer camp experiment you would design!

  • What would your research question be?

  • Who would the campers be?

  • What would they do all day?

  • How would you collect your data?

  • What do you think you'd find out by the end of the summer?

Send us a recording, draw us a picture, or write us an email at!

bottom of page