Do High Schools Need to Offer Sleep Classes?

A new study shows that a school-based sleep program can have long-term effects on teenagers’ sleep.

By Andrea Pisani Babich
Sleepy college student

You wouldn’t think that a behavior as natural as sleep would require a high school class to master. But combine teenagers’ ignorance of the importance of sleep with their natural sense of invincibility, add a healthy dose of youthful rebellion, and you’ve created the perfect niche audience for an educational sleep course.

New research shows that sleepy children need some kind of intervention to help them get the sleep they need. According to the 2016-2017 National Survey of Children’s Health, fewer than half of America’s school-aged children are getting the recommended amount of sleep each night (9 -11 hours). Furthermore, those same sleep-deprived children demonstrated behaviors that may keep them from reaching their full potential, such as persistence in the face of adversity and less interest in learning. And parents seem to be fighting a losing battle or have given up altogether.

Would a Sleep Course Really Work?  

A new study published in the Journal of Sleep Research suggests that a well-designed school-based sleep intervention could help young people get the sleep they need. Exploring if an educational sleep curriculum could improve sleep duration in high schoolers, researchers in Sweden found that students who attended a five-session class on sleep best practices were “about two times less likely to report insufficient sleep at follow-up as compared to controls.”

The study’s sleep intervention consisted of five 50-60-minute sessions over the course of six or seven weeks attended by 286 high school students. (Over 3,000 students from the same schools did not receive sleep training and were used as the control group for comparison.)

The program included two main components:

  1. sleep education about the importance of sleep and good sleep practices
  2. time management training to help students prioritize activities and reduce stress

The program also included a section on the impact of social media and digital technology on sleep. Finally, parents were encouraged to support their children’s efforts to manage their time, avoid distractions from homework, and practice better sleep hygiene.

Before the intervention, students were asked about their sleep knowledge, how long they usually slept, their stress levels, and their bedtime use of digital technology. This data was compared to the results of a follow-up survey one year after the program. Data from the control group was also used for comparison.

Both the intervention group and the control group were divided into three subgroups: those who reported insufficient sleep (<7 hours), those reported borderline amounts of sleep ( 8 -7 hours), and those who reported sufficient sleep ( >8 hours).

School-based Sleep Course Yields Surprising Results 

Not surprising was that the students who participated in the sleep-ed program were twice as likely to report sleeping enough compared to students in the control group one year after the course. Their knowledge about the role of sleep, its importance, and recommended amounts of sleep also improved significantly after participating in the intervention.

Surprisingly, students who attended the sleep-ed classes saw no change in their bedtime stress levels, no improvement in their sleep hygiene, and an increased use of digital technology before bed. These results occurred in spite of students’ increased knowledge about how these behaviors impact sleep. While the study’s authors acknowledge more research is needed to understand these curious results, they were pleased to conclude that school-based sleep programs have the potential for long-term improvements in teenagers’ sleep duration.

Given that the Centers for Disease Control report that one in three adults and more than half of America’s children do not get enough sleep, it may be time for public school health classes to add “Studies in Sleep” to their syllabi.

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