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Harvard Works to Combat Unhealthy Freshman Sleep Habits with Sleep 101 Module

Annenberg Hall
Freshmen eat their meals in Annenberg Hall.

For the first time, Harvard College required incoming freshmen to complete an online training module prior to their arrival on campus about sleeping habits and their effects on other areas of life.

Associate Dean of Students Lauren E. Brandt ’01 and Harvard Medical School professor Charles A. Czeisler ’74 notified students in August of the mandatory module.

 “Sleep duration, timing, and quality are especially important for young adults, who are most impacted by the adverse effects of sleep deficiency," their message read. 

According to the module’s description, students explore “the intersections of sleep and various areas critical for a successful college experience, namely academic performance, athletics, mental and physical health, and social relationships.”

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HMS faculty prepared the College’s module, utilizing a sleep-education program co-designed by Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Sleep Health Institute and Healthy Hours. This content was added to the load of online modules, including alcohol education program Harvard Proof, that are required for incoming freshmen. 

The new sleep training requirement stems from the work of Raymond So ’21, a sleep education advocate who took a freshman seminar with Czeisler last year entitled "Time for Sleep." 

So described his own sleeping habits in high school as “atrocious,” but much of that changed after taking Czeisler’s freshman seminar.

“Taking his class really opened my eyes to all the clinical implications of sleep, and that inspired me to change my life,” So said. “I’m hoping through this initiative that we’ll be able to reach more students, because I’m sure, especially at such an institution with a lot of academic pressures and opportunities, that a lot of people experience the same sleep issues that I had.”

 Lauren Tucker ’22 said she wsa initially skeptical of the module.

“I thought a 40-minute video on sleep was a little bit excessive. Like, how much could they really say?” she said. “But in my three weeks of being here I’m learning the value of sleep,”

“Everyone constantly talks about, ‘Ugh, I should try to get eight hours, I should try to get eight hours’, so it’s definitely like something in the back of my mind, something to aspire to," she added. 

Others spoke less highly of the module's effects. 

“I feel like the sleep module was a good attempt to help motivate students to try to get good sleep in college,” Amechi Egbunike ’22 said. “But, it was still pretty meaningless in a way, because students still end up staying up multiple hours late, usually in Lamont, trying to do their work, and it just backfires overall and ruins their sleep schedule.”

So explained that the late-night work scramble is one of the very things that the module attempts to combat in students’ thought processes.

“Especially on a college campus like Harvard, we tend to think that other things, such as academics, social life, and extracurriculars, have to come first,” So said. “One thing I want to emphasize, and what Sleep 101 emphasizes, is that if you do prioritize sleep first, you can excel in all the three other areas, as opposed to sleep taking away from those.”

As for So’s own sleeping schedule, he says that it has improved significantly since high school.

“Obviously, being at college, with everything, it’s impossible to maintain a perfect sleeping schedule. But I’m more aware, and when I do start to drift away from an optimal schedule, I’m more likely to tell myself, like, ‘no’, and make sure I’m back on track the next day.”

—Staff writer Leyla J. K. Brittan can be reached at leyla.brittan@thecrimson.com.

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