UI app remedies sleeping problems

BY CINDY GARCIA | MARCH 13, 2015 5:00 AM

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From napping stations and free sleep kits to campus maps showing the best places to snooze, colleges around the nation are recognizing the importance of sleep.

The trend of college students sleeping whenever and wherever — on the bus, in class, outside —may be becoming more common. It may be amusing to observers, but it can signal serious problems.

According to the University of Iowa National College Health Assessment from spring 2014, only “35 percent of students report getting enough sleep to feel rested at least five of the last seven days.”

The problem is not going unaddressed. Just last spring, UI Student Health brought the Refresh sleep program to campus, and officials are optimistic about the number of students participating.

“Lack of sleep can affect every aspect of an individual’s life — physical and emotional health are all affected by poor sleep,” said Rebecca Don, a behavioral health consultant at Student Health who oversees the sleep program. “For college students, the impact on academics, social interactions, and long term health issues — which many people don’t think about when they are cracking open another Red Bull — are also especially relevant.”

The consequences of sleep deprivation are overwhelmingly negative. Sleep deprivation has been linked to impaired memory, weight gain, depression, and even an inability to accurately recognize human emotions, according to the National Institutes of Health website.

The program, which aims to fix sleep schedules, can be completed in 35 to 45 days according to the Student Health website.

First, the program assesses a sleep schedule by tracking sleep for five days combined with a series of questionnaires. The second portion includes a customized Sleep Improvement Plan that takes 30 nights.

Mickey Trockel, a professor of behavioral science at the Stanford School of Medicine, initially developed the program before it came to the UI.

“Our office contacted the researchers behind the program … University of Iowa is one of the first universities they have collaborated with,” Don said.

At the UI, it was initially administered by email, and 85 students registered in spring 2014.

However, since the fall of 2014, an app for Apple devices has been available that sparked an uptick in the numbers; 232 students have registered during the 2014-15 academic year.

Student Health hopes to roll out an Android version of the Refresh app at the start of next year.

Each semester, Student Health puts together aggregated assessment data. In the fall of 2014, users of the app version reported significant reductions in insomnia scores, difficulty falling asleep, effort to get to sleep, and sleep disturbances. This was accompanied by significant increases in satisfaction with current sleep pattern, sleep quality, and refreshing sleep.

“The program is especially helpful though for people who experience trouble falling asleep, find themselves waking up during the night, or have trouble getting back to sleep,” Don said. “Seeing positive results helps us make a case to continue to invest energy and resources in the programs.”

The program has also begun offering free, in-person sleep consultations. They help students get started and stay motivated.

While other schools don’t have the Refresh program, sleep deprivation is still a focus.

“We don’t have anything like an app or any set programs; we do a lot of promotion of sleep through the social-media channel,” said Samantha Boyd, a communication specialist at Iowa State University’s Thielen Student Health Center. “We don’t have anything formally for students yet. It’s actually something coming up we’re going to focus on.”

Regarding sleep education, Shawna Haislet, a health-promotion coordinator at the University of Northern Iowa, said the school primarily uses social media to get messages out. Sleep education is also administered through introductory freshman classes, stress management counseling, and poster campaigns.

“Every year, we focus on an issue,” she said.

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