A brief online sleep education tool targeted to college students improved sleep behaviors, sleep knowledge, risky drinking, and depression in a study conducted at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.”Not only did sleep knowledge improve, but sleep quality improved, depression scores went down, and mean alcohol consumption went down,” Shelley Hershner, MD, from the University of Michigan, who developed the “Sleep to Stay Awake” program, noted in an interview with Medscape Medical News.She described the study here at SLEEP 2016: 30th Anniversary Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

A Barrier to Success

Inadequate sleep is a common problem for college students and a key barrier to success, Dr Hershner explained. “There really isn’t a lot of sleep education material for college students, and what there is, is all classroom-based,” she said.

With the Sleep to Stay Awake program, the student first completes a brief sleep questionnaire, which gives them a sleep personality profile. They then see several short videos focusing on technology and sleep, consequences of sleep deprivation; links between learning, sleep, and academic performance; and simple ways to improve sleep.

“I was really trying to make this applicable to students, and I wanted to encourage the students to make small changes, not huge changes, in their sleep patterns,” Dr Hershner told Medscape Medical News.

Among 2400 college students recruited, 675 enrolled (28%), with 316 taking the online sleep program and 359 serving as controls. The students had a mean age of 22 years, and 42% were men. They completed standard health and sleep instruments at baseline and 1 and 8 weeks.

At 8 weeks, compared with controls, students who took the online sleep program were more likely to report positive behavior change, including stopping electronics earlier, getting up earlier on weekends, and keeping a more regular sleep schedule. Controls reported increased sleepiness.

Students don’t realize that the reason we sleep is primarily for consolidation of learning,” Dr Hershner said. “The program takes 15 minutes to complete. It is not intended to treat a college student with a sleep disorder, but to be able to give information about the importance of sleep in a way that doesn’t take the classroom.”

“This is great work,” session moderator Jaspal Singh, MD, from Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, noted in an interview with Medscape Medical News.

“The more we can get the message out to students about the importance of sleep and adjusting their sleep practice, and make the science behind sleep relevant to them in a way that is actually meaningful to them, the better that is,” he said. “They seemed to really see the benefits of sleep in this study.”