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Harvard Sleep 101

Teaching the importance of sleep

For the first time, incoming Harvard students were asked to complete an online module before campus move-in day called, “Sleep 101.”

The interactive module is aimed to teach students about healthier sleep habits and the impact sleep has on health. Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) created the module as part of the Sleep Matters Initiative.

In 2017, the Southwest Journal of Pulmonary & Critical Care published an abstract entitled, “The Impact of an Online Prematriculation Sleep Course (Sleep 101) on Sleep Knowledge and Behaviors in College Freshmen: A Pilot Study.” The study found that after taking Sleep 101, students were less likely to stay awake all night studying for an exam, or drive when tired. Though the study does mention that the online module is currently voluntary, noting the likelihood that it was only completed by those students already interested in sleep.

An Expert Weighs In
World Sleep Society (WSS) has a membership made up of sleep clinicians, professors and researchers in 76 countries. We reached out to one of our members, an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, to get an opinion from the sleep field. Robert Joseph Thomas, MD answered the following questions about the Sleep 101 concept and its importance going forward.

Dr. Robert Thomas

WSS: As a sleep professional, how do you feel about the new initiative to teach incoming college students about healthy sleep at your institution?

Dr. Thomas: Knowing about and managing sleep should be taught very early in school. Harvard Sleep 101’s program is a reasonable step, even if at college entry. I believe that with the majority of wearable devices offering some type of sleep data, this dimension will soon be readily available. It is best to be prepared.

WSS: Do you think the program’s curriculum is adequate?

Dr. Thomas: The program’s curriculum will cover basic sleep physiology and sleep deprivation as the major themes. It touches on caffeine as well. It’s a base for those not understanding the impact of sleep on overall health. The content has been prepared by experts who have dedicated a lot of their time and energy in bringing attention to sleep deprivation and its risks, so I doubt anything important would be missed.

WSS: What impact to you foresee this program having on students?

Dr. Thomas: Unfortunately, because the pressures of college performance are so great, I think the overall impact to students’ lives will be relatively small. I hope I am wrong here. Anyone can generally find time for what they consider important, so we must set sleep as a priority. For those seeking more information, I recommend reading Matt Bianchi’s book, “Your Sleep Story” as a good no-nonsense primer.

WSS: Do you think this is a program that should be initiated in other universities? Why or why not?

Dr. Thomas: This program is a good start, but it needs to be evaluated for sustained impact on behavior. Perhaps a trial with universities randomized.

To help improve overall sleep and wellness, everyone should consider World Sleep Society’s 10 Commandments of Sleep Hygiene for Adults:

  1. Establish a regular bedtime and waking time.
  2. If you are in the habit of taking siestas, do not exceed 45 minutes of daytime sleep.
  3. Avoid excessive alcohol ingestion 4 hours before bedtime, and do not smoke.
  4. Avoid caffeine 6 hours before bedtime. This includes coffee, tea and many sodas, as well as chocolate.
  5. Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4 hours before bedtime. A light snack before bed is acceptable.
  6. Exercise regularly, but not right before bed.
  7. Use comfortable, inviting bedding.
  8. Find a comfortable sleep temperature setting and keep the room well ventilated.
  9. Block out all distracting noise and eliminate as much light as possible.
  10. Reserve your bed for sleep and sex, avoiding its use for work or general recreation.

The professional highlighted above represents the many leaders belonging to World Sleep Society’s membership, committed to advancing sleep medicine and research worldwide. Sleep is one of the three pillars of good health, along with a balanced diet and regular exercise. To learn more about World Sleep Society and its biennial sleep congress, visit worldsleepsociety.org. #WorldSleep2019 #WorldSleepDay

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