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Student Initiative Studies Undergrad Sleep Habits

Quincy House, where researchers are studying student sleep behaviors.
Quincy House, where researchers are studying student sleep behaviors. By Krystal K. Phu
By Arnav Agrawal and Grace Lin, Contributing Writers

The student-led Sleep Matters Initiative is currently studying the sleeping habits of undergraduates in Quincy and Adams houses, hoping to identify factors that are negatively affecting sleep quality among Harvard undergraduates.

The study aims in part to examine how student-athletes are affected by early morning practices by comparing sleep patterns of athletes on and off season. The initiative also hopes to look at sleep patterns among student body more broadly.

Since the start of the semester, the SMI has asked Quincy and Adams residents to track and report their sleep habits each morning and answer questions about how long they slept, when they went to bed, and what they did before bed.

While SMI members said they want to learn about common factors negatively impacting sleep quality for students overall, they also hope participants will become more aware of their own sleep habits through the semester-long program.

“The overarching goal of the organization is to improve awareness about the importance of sleep and provide education and information to students of the College about sleep tips and how to get better sleep in this environment,” SMI member Mark E. Czeisler ’19 said.

To encourage participation, the initiative raffles off a Beats Pills speaker every month to participating students. Every two weeks, SMI also awards additional study break funding to the entryway with the highest participation. Brigham and Women's Hospital has provided funding for the project.

In addition to tangible prizes, SMI student leader Sean F. Gibney ’19 said participants will receive “personalized analysis of their sleep habits” and information about how they compare to the average participant.

Quincy and Adams house administrators have allowed SMI to table and hold office hours to find time to work with student participants. Czeisler said house administrators will receive insights about how they can change house activities, like study breaks, to improve residents’ sleep patterns.

Currently, they have collected information from seven thousand nights of sleep.

The current survey of undergraduates draws on research by William M. Clerx ’14, a molecular and cellular biology concentrator who examined the effects of irregular sleep on academic performance in his senior thesis.

Founded three years ago, the initiative is led by eight undergraduates under the guidance of three researchers in the Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine: Charles A. Czeisler ’74, Laura K. Barger, and Matthew D. Weaver. Czeisler is the Director of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the professor of MCB 186: “Sleep and Circadian Clocks: from Biology to Public Health.”

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