Two Stanford University sleep experts gave a talk at Gunn High School this week, kicking off a new partnership between the high school and Stanford aimed at educating students and parents on the intimately interwoven topics of sleep and student wellness.
William Dement and Rafael Pelayo, both psychiatry and behavioral science professors at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, talked to 200 sophomores and seniors Wednesday about the importance of establishing a healthy sleep rhythm, and the increasing number of distractions competing for students' time, primarily homework and social media. A survey was also administered during the assembly, asking students questions like, "Have you ever seen a classmate fall asleep in class?" (76 percent have) and "Have you ever skipped sleep to do your homework?" (76 percent have).
The assembly was the first in what Gunn administrators hope will be an ongoing series of educational efforts surrounding sleep, social-emotional well-being and general wellness.
"Part of that is the idea of our school embracing the idea that yes, our primary goal is academic learning, but there are a lot of other kinds of learning how to take care of your body, how to take care of your mind," Gunn Principal Denise Herrmann told the Weekly Thursday. "All of those things are equally important."
Vice Principal Tom Jacoubowsky reached out to Dement and Pelayo just before winter break in December to plan the assembly. Dement, who also serves as division chief of the Stanford University Division of Sleep and is founding president of the American Sleep Disorders Association (ASDA), has for decades studied the neurochemistry of sleep and the impact of sleep deprivation, according to his university biography. In 2006, Dement spearheaded a sleep-study and awareness campaign at Menlo-Atherton High School that soon won recognition from the California School Boards Association and the National Sleep Foundation's Healthy Sleep Community Awards.
Pelayo has published research on treatment for sleep disorders and, particularly, pediatric sleep pharmacology.
Gunn sophomore Martha Cabot said the assembly wasn't as helpful to her and her friends as they would have hoped.
"They continued to point out that us kids need to know that we should sleep more and do less homework," she said. "It was kind of surprising to us because we know well enough that we should sleep more."
Some students were actually asleep or on their phones during the assembly, she said. To her and her friends, the issue circles back to the need for a fix for students' heavy homework loads.
Jacoubowsky and Herrmann said the new sleep partnership is just one of several efforts to improve student wellness, including a hard look at Gunn's homework load and class scheduling, the construction of a comprehensive wellness center and ongoing work with Challenge Success, a nonprofit research organization founded at Stanford's School of Education that works with schools and families to improve student health.
Herrmann said Gunn is expanding this year the use of a time-management tool previously used only for students considering taking multiple Advanced Placement (AP) classes. When students select their classes, they'll be asked to calculate how many hours they would be spending in school and on homework versus sports, extracurriculars, sleep and other activities.
"At the end it will say, 'Have you exceeded an average of a 24-hour day?' We're trying to find tools to help them," Herrmann said.
In 2011, Gunn shifted its morning start time from 7:55 to 8:25 a.m., though 15 percent of students are currently enrolled in an early zero-period course, Jacoubowsky said.
Jacoubowsky hopes Gunn's partnership with the two sleep experts will be a sustained, ongoing and comprehensive effort that goes beyond one-time assemblies, though a similar assembly for freshmen and juniors is in the works for this year. An eventual goal is to incorporate sleep education into Titan 101, Gunn's freshman transition program.
"This is ongoing because every year, we get a new group of kids," Jacoubowsky said. "Every year, we get new parents coming in. It ties in again with wellness (making sure students are) not only academically strong, but emotionally healthy, and what role the school can play in it."
Jacoubowsky said parents play a critically important role, yet many don't fully understand how different it is to be a high school student in today's world of constant connectivity and increased demands on attention and energy.
According to the survey administered during the assembly, 72 percent of responding students go to sleep after their parents do.
"If I went to our parents and said, 'Hey, I have a program I can offer you that's going to improve your child's health, which will improve their productivity, which will improve their grades are you interested? And would you be willing to pay for this?' And they would probably all say, 'yes and yes,'" Jacoubowsky said. "Well, this program is absolutely free, and it's called 'monitoring your child's sleep and understanding (it).' That's the other part."
Jacoubowsky and district nurse Linda Lenoir are planning a similar sleep-education program for parents in February, he said.
Sleep survey at Gunn High
Have you ever seen a classmate fall asleep in class?
True (yes): 76 percent (150 responses)
False (no): 24 percent (48 responses)
Have you ever fallen asleep doing homework?
T: 46.5 percent (93 responses)
F: 53.5 percent (107 responses)
Have you ever skipped sleep to do homework?
T: 76 percent (152 responses)
F: 24 percent (48 responses)
Do you go to sleep after your parents do?
T: 72 percent (144 responses)
F: 28 percent (56 responses)
Do you wish you could have more sleep?
T: 87.5 percent (175 responses)
F: 12.5 percent (25 responses)
Do you wake up tired?
T: 86.5 percent (173 responses)
F: 13.5 percent (27 responses)
Have you ever seen a person drive drowsy?
T: 47.3 percent (95 responses)
F: 52.7 percent (106 responses)
Are you ever woken up by a text message?
T: 31.5 percent (63 responses)
F: 68.5 percent (137 responses)