Sleep Education & Initiatives

Did you know?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night, But Did You Know that only 6.2% of UMD students report getting adequate sleep 6-7 nights of the past 7 nights?  Health Education staff are working to change that by providing sleep education, and campus initiatives that help create an environment and resources for effective sleep habits for students. In addition, Health Services Counselors and Medical Staff can see students on an appointment basis and provide important support for sleep.

Sleep Education & Initiatives

Health Education Staff, Interns, and SHAC developed and administered an informal needs assessment to measure student reported barriers to sleep and methods for sleep support that students would use.  We learned a lot and are putting that information into practice with a series of initiatives on campus.  This is what we've been up to so far!

Unpacking a busy mind before bed

About 50% of survey respondents reported that having a busy mind and stress is a barrier to getting a full night of sleep.  This information inspired UMD health educators to collect a few stress reduction strategies for students to do before bed to get better sleep:

1. Journaling:  Before bed, write down what you have on your mind in that moment; this may include creative ideas, worries, upcoming events, responsibilities, stressors, and to-do lists.  Be as specific as you can with your to-do lists, including the responsibilities and deadlines on your list, and when you will accomplish them (dates/times!).  You may even want to write down your plan for accomplishing your to-do in a daily planner, so that you have the assurance that the information is collected in a place where you will be reminded of your timeline.  Also, write down what you've already accomplished from the to-do list on that day. 

2. Meditation and breath-work are evidenced-based techniques for eliciting the relaxation response.  These experiences can help the mind and body relax before bed. Try this meditation .  You may also want to try this breathing technique, facilitated by Dr. James Gordon from the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.

3. provides "5 ways to wind down and fall asleep" if you'd like to learn more!

Sleep Kits Distribution

Health Services has distributed over 750 sleep kits to students.  The kits included an eye mask, ear plugs, tea, along with education on "ten tips for getting better sleep".  What are those ten tips you might ask?

10 Tips for Getting Better Sleep
  1. Stick to a sleep schedule (consistent bedtime and wake time) that allows you to get 7-9 hours each night.
  2. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual (Try reading a book? Meditation?).
  3. Exercise daily (but preferably not right before bedtime).
  4. Avoid screen time a couple hours before bed.  Blue light emitted by devices can delay the release of melatonin, and therefore delay sleep.
  5. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, large meals, and caffeine in the evening, especially a couple hours before bedtime.
  6. Keep your room cool and dark.
  7. Take a hot bath or shower before bed.
  8. Write down what is bothering you before bedtime.
  9. Design a comfortable sleep environment.
  10. Work out sleep schedules with your roommate.    
  11. Bonus tip!!  If you have insomnia, or difficulty sleeping on a regular basis, talk with a counselor or physician at Health Services.

Sleep apps poster campaign

One of the most frequent responses from students on our survey for supportive measures was that students would use sleep apps.  Student interns and SHAC researched the iPhone platform for programs that might help support sleep.  They found Bedtime and Night Shift and created posters providing education on these programs.  We posted these throughout campus and in the Nap Zone (see next initiative!).

Bedtime may not be a stand alone feature (icon) under the clock app on newer devices, but it can still be accessed on the clock alarm setting at the top of the page (sleep/wake-up alarm).  Now there are sleep features under the iPhone Health app:

Set a sleep goal: Bedtime and wake-up settings and alarms that help you reach your sleep target;  tracks your time in bed.

Set sleep mode:  Do Not Disturb option, and simplified lock screen, for fewer disruptions during sleep.

Wind down: Set a time before bed that begins a series of selected features to help you unwind: journaling, music, mindfulness apps, etc.

Designated Nap Zone Project

Half of the survey respondents reported that they take naps, mostly in the afternoon.  The top response for supportive measures that students would use for sleep was for a nap zone. In spring of 2018, we researched areas on campus that might make for a conducive environment for napping on campus.  The Kirby Underground, just below our student commons in the Kirby Student Center, was a uniquely situated space for napping.  It is a commonly quiet space where students spend time studying and well, napping!  We submitted a proposal to the Kirby Student Center to partner on creating a Designated Nap Zone in the Kirby Underground.  We proposed Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, from 2-3pm.  The proposed time aligns with parameters established from sleep research and body physiology.  The proposal was accepted by Kirby, and the nap zone was established.  We have created posters that highlight suggestions for napping.  On the posters, we have emphasized that napping is not recommended for students with insomnia, and rather we suggest that they meet with a counselor for effective techniques for managing insomnia.  

In the fall of 2018, SHAC monitored the nap zone, and came up with several suggestions to enhance the environment for napping:

  1. We recommend purchasing additional bean bags for the Underground to provide softer napping surfaces (currently there are 3 bean bags).
  2. During the study, it was noted that the use of pool tables created noise disturbances during nap zone times.  It was requested that pool equipment not be rented out during designated nap zones times, and that helped create a more conducive sleep environment.  We recommend continuing this effort in the future.
  3. Another recommendation is to dim the lights during nap zones times.  During one time period of monitoring the nap zones, the lights were notably dimmer.  This created a more relaxing environment.
  4. Lastly, SHAC recommends developing a nap zone space in other departments or colleges across campus (even if just a couple bean bags are provided) to expand access to napping environments.

Listen to Mara Rosenwinkel, SHAC student, talk about the nap zone project in an interview on KUMD.

UPDATE:  Due to the popularity of the Underground for napping, in fall 2019, we were able to make the nap zone available every weekday, 2-3pm!!

Homework Deadlines Assessments and Proposals

In 2018, we started looking at homework deadlines as one means of creating an environment that supports effective sleep habits.  So far in our research, we are learning from students that if they had homework deadlines that are earlier than the default deadline of 11:59pm, they would use that time to participate in behaviors that support sleep, to include unwinding with family and friends, and going to bed earlier.  We are currently working with the Applied Human Sciences Department on a homework deadline pilot project for fall 2019, a project we are calling the Healthy Sleep Program.  The Program encourages faculty to have a 10pm or earlier deadline for homework and tests, so that students can begin a bedtime routine by 10pm, better enabling students to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep. This is an interesting article about one college instructor's experiment on deadlines to promote sleep.

If you are interested in learning more about our initiatives or getting involved in SHAC, please contact Dori Decker, [email protected].

Sleep Information and Resources

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep each night.  Scientific studies demonstrate just how important that amount of sleep is for health and wellbeing, including academic performance.  So what happens when we sleep?  Scientists are still working to elucidate all of the complexities of sleep, but research does suggest the following health factors are impacted by sleep:

1. Hormone regulation, including the regulation of hormones involved in the stress response, appetite and growth.

2. Tissue repair and recovery of body systems (including the immune system and the cardiovascular system).

3. Memory Consolidation; sleep after learning is important for creating lasting memories (synaptic connections supporting the memory are strengthened). 

4. Learning.  Sleep is also important prior to learning, and according to neuroimaging research, results in greater activity in the hippocampus that theoretically allows it to more effectively receive and hold new memories (see MPR story below).

4. Housecleaning!  Cellular waste (gunk!) is removed from the brain at a high rate during sleep. Build up of waste products can create a toxic environment for neurons.  One of these waste products is beta amyloid, which is associated with Alzheimer's Disease.

5. Mental Health and emotion regulation.

6. Creativity and problem-solving.

7. Physical performance and reaction time.

Considering these important factors (and more!) are impacted by sleep, it will come as no surprise that consistently getting inadequate sleep is linked to weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, dementia and Alzheimer's, reduced immune function, reduced productivity, and more.  As tempting as it may be to stay up and cram for a test and do some late night homework, be sure to prioritize sleep!   Try the ten sleep tips provided above, or check out the excellent resources for sleep information below.

UMD Health Services counseling (218-726-7913) and medical support (218-726-8155)

Highly Recommended!! 
MPR Stories: A neuroscientist explains the power of sleep (audio, 55 minutes)
And "8 things you need to know about sleep" (audio, 38 minutes, and text)

TED Talk with Roxanne Prichard, PhD, Scientific Director at the Center for Sleep at St. Thomas University: (approximately 6 min)

National Sleep Foundation

The Mayo Clinic

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine