New health initiative: students should get more shuteye

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An initiative to promote healthful sleep habits, organized by Columbia’s Alice! Health Promotion Program, invites members of the University community to send friends e-cards like this one. / Courtesy of Columbia Office of Health ServicesIf you want to ace that midterm exam or nail that work presentation, hit the sack. That’s the message behind a new health-promotion initiative at Columbia. On the campaign’s Web site, health.columbia.edu/sleep, anyone with a Columbia UNI can fill out a survey to receive personalized tips about how to improve one’s sleep habits and time-management skills. The site also contains lots of tips about the importance of slumber. For example: You process information faster, and retain it better, when you’re well rested.

The initiative was launched in response to a series of campus health surveys and focus groups, conducted between 2006 and 2009, that revealed that a slim majority of Columbia students deprive themselves of sleep regularly. Students who are committed to getting proper sleep every night, moreover, get the best grades.

“Many students put sleep in the category of something-I’ll-do-after-I’ve-done-everything-else,” says Michael McNeil, interim director of Columbia’s Alice! Health Promotion Program, which is running the campaign. “It’s not a top priority for them.”

McNeil knows that stumping for shut-eye is a challenge at an Ivy League institution, where people tend to bond over their unusual devotion to work. Faculty and staff, he says, as well as students, may easily fall into the habit of reading into the wee hours. (The author of this article, upon completing the two-minute online sleep assessment, was told that he might sleep more restfully, and hence perform better on the job, if he drinks less tea at night and eats dinner earlier.)

“No one should be shocked to hear that college students get too little sleep, because this is an issue throughout higher education,” says McNeil. “And at Columbia, there’s certainly pressure to perform. We’re trying to teach students that they’ll perform better, in every way, if they get good sleep.”

DJC

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