Connecting Sleep Health Resources to State Education Requirements to Facilitate Utilization by Classroom Teachers
2020 Community Sleep Health Grant
Terra Ziporyn, PhD
Start School Later, Inc./Healthy Hours
Key Project Outcome
Let’s Sleep! has created high quality and award-winning sleep education materials for middle and high school students. AASM also has developed evidence-based sleep health education curricula for grades K-12. We recognize that teachers need free resources and need to know that health content aligns with state health education standards. We developed an easy-to-use resource guide for teachers and school administrators illustrating how the free sleep health lessons from both Let’s Sleep! and AASM match each state’s curricular requirements. Teachers and administrators can access the guide on the Let’s Sleep! website (https://letssleep.org/curriculum-guide).
As part of our project work, we reviewed K-12 health education standards across the US, comparing the requirements for sleep health education. Since sleep is a foundation of health and as important to health, well-being, safety, and performance as nutrition and physical activity, we believe that health education should include lessons about sleep health every year that health is taught. When schools present information about sleep as part of the curriculum, students understand that the school community values sleep as an essential component of school culture.
Our Let’s Sleep! team found a wide range of approaches in health education standards across states. Overall, sleep health was not given the same attention as other health topics such as nutrition, physical activity, and substance use. To give you an idea of the size of the discrepancy, our search for key terms in the standards across the US found the following total counts for each: sleep (216), nutrition (1497), physical activity (1566), and alcohol (1586). In a handful of states, we found sleep on relatively equal footing with the other two pillars of health with Virginia standards calling out “sleep” 34 times, nutrition 56, physical activity 25, and alcohol 34. While in many instances, more general standards were applicable to sleep-related topics (e.g., standards about learning how “behaviors affect health” without specifying content areas), failure to specifically mention “sleep” or provide sleep-related curricular resources leaves open the possibility that this critical content area will be overlooked.
We hope to use the data collected to encourage states to incorporate additional lessons about sleep health given sleep’s relevance to health, mental health, safety, and performance. We believe that students should learn about sleep each year from kindergarten through 12th grade, and that a comprehensive health education program should cover the following important subjects:
- Amount of sleep needed at different life stages
- Sleep hygiene (healthy sleep habits)
- How sleep changes during puberty
- Sleep cycle and understanding the biology of sleep
- How sleep affects physical, mental, and emotional health, including its relationship to disease prevention and to depression and suicidality
- How academic and athletic performance as well as social relationships are affected by sleep
- Substances and how sleep affects use or is affected by use (e.g., caffeine, alcohol, melatonin, Adderall)
- Safe and effective use of caffeine
- Drowsy driving and other risky behaviors (risky behaviors increase when one is sleep deprived)
- Sleep disorders
We reached out to contacts in each state Department of Education to share the Let’s Sleep! and AASM sleep health education resources and to encourage the use of the content and the new teacher resource guide. We also provided tailored guidance about how sleep health lessons could be incorporated into the state’s standards to help students.
Let’s Sleep! is a joint initiative of Brigham & Women’s Hospital’s Division of Sleep & Circadian Disorders, led by Harvard Medical School’s sleep pioneer Dr. Charles Czeisler, and Healthy Hours/Start School Later, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sleep health and raising public awareness about the relationship of sleep and developmentally appropriate school hours to physical, psychological, and educational well-being. We envision a world that respects and cares for adolescents and one in which sleep health holds its rightful place as the foundation of health and well-being.