Ask parents about their child’s sleep habits, and they are likely to respond with a sigh — or a roll of the eyes. Ask a teenager whether he or she gets enough sleep, and you’re likely to hear a resounding No! To help parents and their children understand and fully appreciate the importance of sleep, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Office of Science Education and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) have developed a new supplemental curriculum for use in high school biology classes.
“Sleep is as important as physical activity and healthy eating to our overall health, safety, and performance,” said Dr. Carl E. Hunt, director of the NHLBI’s National Center on Sleep Disorders Research (NCSDR), which coordinates sleep research and sleep education programs throughout NIH and the Federal Government. “Inadequate sleep not only makes us tired, but it can make it difficult to concentrate, to learn, and to control our impulses and emotions.”
The free curriculum, Sleep, Sleep Disorders, and Biological Rhythms, which meets National Science Education Standards, encourages students to explore the scientific processes of sleep, the importance of adequate sleep, and the negative consequences of sleep deprivation. The first step: students keep a “sleep diary” to study their own sleep habits and learn about the rhythmic nature of sleepiness.
Reaching youth with messages about the importance of adequate sleep is an educational priority of the NCSDR. Experts recommend at least nine hours of sleep per night for adolescents as well as younger, school-aged children. Without it, students’ performance in the classroom and in after school activities can be impaired, and their risk for sports-related and other injuries increases. In fact, for teens behind the wheel, sleep problems can be deadly.
“Young drivers, especially young men, are at high risk for serious car crashes related to drowsy driving,” Dr. Hunt notes. “Unfortunately, many teens regularly sacrifice hours of sleep to accommodate life’s increasing demands — school work, jobs, extracurricular activities, and socializing — at a time when maturational changes delay the natural timing of feeling tired in the evening.”
The new curriculum complements existing NCSDR educational programs and materials for children and adolescents and their parents, teachers, and healthcare providers. Among the most popular is the award-winning “Sleep Well. Do Well Star Sleeper Campaign,” which is cosponsored by Paws, Inc., and features Garfield as its “spokescat.” Launched in February 2001, this campaign aims to educate children ages 7 to 11 about the importance of getting at least nine hours of sleep each night.
Most recently, the Star Sleeper campaign produced educational materials on sleep for third-grade classrooms. The materials were produced in collaboration with Time For Kids, a developer of in-school products that is part of Time, Inc., and distributed to approximately 44,000 third-grade teachers and the 750,000 students in their classes. Other educational tools produced by the campaign include a Garfield Star Sleeper Fun Pad, filled with games that incorporate healthy sleep messages and Mission Z, an interactive Web site with information about the importance of sleep, as well as tips and resources for parents, teachers, and pediatricians. A Garfield “Star Sleeper” plush doll dressed in bunny rabbit slippers and pajamas is also available.
While the high school curriculum and Star Sleeper campaign materials target youth and their parents and teachers, a Working Group on Sleepiness and Adolescents, co-sponsored by the NCSDR and the American Academy of Pediatrics, will soon release recommendations for pediatricians on treating sleepiness in adolescents.