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Students Learn the Science of Sleep – Through Napping – in Three-Week Course

On the first day of class, students in the "Science of Sleep and Culture" class were required to take a nap.

On the first day of class for the Spring 2013 3-Week, students in the “Science of Sleep and Culture” class were required to take a nap.

Naptime is generally long gone from the academic curriculum once students hit college.

That is, of course, unless they are enrolled in the 3-Week “Science and Culture of Sleep” course at Hiram College, team-taught by Erin Lamb, assistant professor of biomedical humanities, and Cara Constance, associate professor of biology. The interdisciplinary class explores the biological and cultural significance of sleep, and the first assignment of the class was for students to take a forced nap.

“It’s a great way to introduce the thought, ‘What does it take to fall asleep?’” Lamb said.

Over the next three weeks, students will learn information about sleep that the professors hope will they will use in a positive way going forward. For this reason, the class is only open to freshmen and sophomores; this way, they have time to break any bad sleep habits that negatively affect their academic performance.

“I think college students don’t typically get enough sleep, and (in this class) they realize that it affects their health and academic performance,” Constance said. “That’s the goal of the class.”

College freshmen and sophomores are still considered adolescents, and therefore should get nine hours of sleep a night, Constance said. In an informal survey at the beginning of class, only six out of 20 students said they received nine hours of sleep or more.

Student Devonique Henderson ’15 enrolled in the class because she is interested in the subject matter, and it fulfills her interdisciplinary course requirement. She said she only received three hours of sleep the night before, but that isn’t necessarily typical.

“It depends if I have practice or an exam,” she said, “but I feel like I (get enough sleep) for the most part.”

The professors agreed that there are many things about adolescent culture in the United States work against students getting the required nine hours of sleep. With technological distractions keeping them up late, and school days starting early, it’s almost unheard of for students to get a good night’s sleep every night.

And the problem goes beyond just adolescents, they said. While adults don’t need the full nine hours of sleep, they should still aim to get at least seven, and that often doesn’t happen.

“We have this idea that people who sleep a lot are lazy,” Lamb said. “The idea that you miss out on life if you sleep too much is very much American.”

Students will explore these and many more issues relating to sleep throughout the class. One of their assignments will include writing a paper that describes how sleep will fit into their future career. They’ll also keep a journal of their own sleep habits and create table tents and other collateral to encourage their peers to think about their own sleep habits.

View more photos from the class.

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