Education at the undergraduate level provides a unique opportunity to share important health information when readiness to learn has transcended adolescent levels. It also provides an important opportunity to expose students to the topics and potentially increase the number of individuals interested in this area of medicine. In fact, curricula that include sleep-related material at the undergraduate level may be particularly appropriate and effective for a number of reasons.
First, leaving home to attend college is often the first time that young adults are totally responsible for self-care. Numerous studies have demonstrated that one of the most common difficulties undergrads experience is sleep disturbance. For example, in a survey of 191 college students, most reported that they had developed some form of sleep disturbance (Buboltz et al., 2001). Further, a recent study of 964 undergraduate residence hall students found that sleep problems were among the list of significant predictors of stress (Dusselier et al., 2005). A study of 1,300 students in the United States Military Academy found that incoming cadets were significantly sleep deprived, receiving only about 4 hours and 50 minutes of sleep per night during the week in their first fall semester (Miller and Shattuck, 2005). The reasons for the high prevalence of these sleep problems in undergraduate students are likely related to a variety of factors including poor sleep hygiene, stress associated with changes in lifestyle, study demands, socializing, use of stimulants, and in some cases a feeling of the need to demonstrate mental and physical toughness.
Undergraduates also experience the consequences of poor sleep habits and require the necessary health information to make appropriate lifestyle changes. Earlier studies demonstrated that students’ poor sleep quality was associated with increased tension, irritability, depression, confusion, and lower life satisfaction as well as increases use of marijuana and alcohol (Pilcher et al., 1997). In addition, poor sleep has been associated with impaired academic performance and deficits in learning and memory (Lack, 1986; Gais et al., 2000; Stickgold et al., 2000; Walker et al., 2003; Fenn et al., 2003). Unfortunately, many students who experience academic problems do not realize that poor sleep may be a crucial contributing factor (Buboltz et al., 2001).
Although some sleep-related public health educational activities have been developed (see previous section), their impact appears to be minimal. Thus, new ways to incorporate sleep education into undergraduate student