Getting their Zs: Helping students learn about good sleep habits

student sleep campaign

The Lee School in Dorchester launches its Sleep Campaign.

Boston Public School’s Joseph Lee School in Dorchester serves nearly 700 children in K-8. Many of them are missing a vital element in ensuring their academic success and overall health—sleep!

“We have many children coming late to school, and some are falling asleep in class. It’s clear that many children are not getting enough sleep the night before,” says Principal Kim Crowley. Elementary school-aged children need 10-11 hours of sleep each night; middle and high school students need 8.5-9.5 hours.

An early start time at the school—hours are 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.—may be a factor, particularly for older students. But the home environment also contributes. “Some children share a bedroom with a sibling or an adult who stays up later,” says Suzanne Costello, LICSW, a social worker who’s been at the Lee School for the past nine years through Boston Children’s Hospital’s Neighborhood Partnerships Program (CHNP), a community-based behavioral health program.

For the past 13 years, CHNP has partnered with Boston schools. Clinicians like Costello are placed in school settings to provide an array of comprehensive behavioral health services and support schools to better meet the needs of their students.

Costello has observed other reasons impacting sleep. “Some kids can’t get restful sleep until they hear a parent coming home from a night-shift job.”

Then there is the use of technology. TVs are on or music is playing in bedrooms, along with ever-present devices—laptops, tablets and smartphones—and the lures of gaming and social media. “Lack of sleep is a universal problem, but it has been exacerbated by the prevalence of technology and social media,” agrees Crowley.

To help students be more ready to learn in the morning, the Lee School has experimented with a number of options, including early-morning exercise, a nutritious breakfast and now a sleep campaign.

Sleep stealers

The school designated January and February as Sleep Awareness Months. Costello helped with developing materials and activities to raise awareness of the need for sufficient sleep and the “sleep stealers” that can sabotage it. Activities included in-class presentations, a poster contest and a “sleep stealer challenge” for students and teachers and a special event for families. Participating students were eligible for drawings to win prizes such as a comforter and sheet sets, pillows and white noise machines.

The sleep campaign is a natural for the school and Boston Children’s to support. “Lack of sleep is a problem for everyone in the school, including teachers,” says Costello. “A school-wide campaign, using existing channels of communication and classroom time, makes sense. For Boston Children’s, part of our mission is to support children in the community so they can be the best they can be. We know that behavioral health and physical health and academic success are interconnected. And we know that getting enough sleep is an important part of wellness, just like eating well and exercise.”

Even Principal Crowley took the sleep stealer challenge. “I am the poster child for poor sleep patterns,” says Crowley. Her biggest problem was checking emails during the night. So she challenged herself to remove her smartphone from the bedroom. “It took me a few nights to realize that reading emails at night isn’t essential!”

Why Sleep Matters

A 2014 National Sleep Foundation study of families found that, on average, parents reported their school-aged children were getting 1.5-2 hours less sleep than recommended.

A 2010 National Science Foundation study found that children, especially those who live in poor neighborhoods and come from more economically disadvantaged homes, tend to benefit more when they sleep better and tend to suffer more when their sleep is poor.

student sleep campaign 2

Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Adam Foss reads a bedtime story to Lee School students.

What’s the big deal about sleep?

Be smart: sleep improves concentration, memory and brain performance

Have a better mood: sleep restores the body and helps manage stress and irritability

Fight off germs: sleep helps your body fight off colds and flu

Avoid weight gain: lack of sleep weakens communication between your brain and stomach and you are more likely to overeat

Stay Awake: More sleep = less daytime sleepiness

Read Full Story | Leave a Comment

What is myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)?

20150325_Drew-1When a 6-year-old boy who loves Facebook missed Halloween because of a rare blood disorder, inpatient nurses at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center stepped in. They organized a belated Halloween celebration, and Boston Children’s Hospital posted a photo on its Facebook page, along with a request “to show him support and cheer him on.” Now it was Facebook users’ turn to step in, and step in they did. By the next morning, the post had more than 10,000 likes. Local media and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute posted the story on their Facebook pages, leading to thousands more likes. By the next week, the Boston Children’s post had attracted more than 17,000.

The disease that caused young Drew to miss Halloween is pediatric myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), for which he was treated with a stem cell transplant. While MDS is more common in adults – “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts was treated for it in 2012 – it occurs in only four of every million children.

What is pediatric myelosdysplastic syndrome?

MDS develops in the bone marrow, the soft, spongy center of long bones that produces white blood cells that fight infection, red blood cells that carry oxygen and platelets that help blood clot to stop bleeding. The cells in the bone marrow that produce these cells are called blood stem cells. MDS disturbs the process by which stem cells mature to become red cells, white cells and platelets. About one-third of children with MDS develop leukemia, usually within months or a few years.

What are the symptoms of MDS?

The most common symptom is bleeding or abnormal bruising, due to a low platelet count. Other symptoms include anemia, which occurs when problems in the production of red blood cells decrease oxygen in the blood, making the child appear tired or pale or breathe faster than normal. A child with MDS may be prone to infections because of an inadequate amount of infection-fighting white blood cells. Sometimes MDS is picked up accidentally in a routine blood test for something else.

How is MDS in children treated?

Treatment of the consequences of MDS includes blood transfusions of red cells and platelets to improve symptoms of anemia and to prevent bleeding. Antibiotics are often used to treat infections. The only cure for MDS is a stem cell transplant, often called a bone marrow transplant. The child is given high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy  to destroy all the cells in the bone marrow, healthy and diseased ones. Healthy cells from the bone marrow of another person—either a relative (usually a sibling) or an unrelated individual—are given to the patient through an infusion to replace the diseased bone marrow with healthy marrow. Without a stem cell transplant, the long-term outlook for children with MDS is poor.

Learn about Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Myelodysplastic Syndrome Specialty Program.


Read Full Story | Leave a Comment

Preemie Jace Perkins rocks ’n rolls through 137 days in the NICU

Melyssa Perkins was 25 weeks into a healthy pregnancy with her first child when she began to have abdominal pain. She called her local nurse who said she was probably dehydrated, but when water didn’t help and the pain increased, Melyssa and her husband Jamie rushed to nearby Beverly Hospital, where they discovered that she was fully dilated.

“I don’t think I said one word at that point. I was in complete shock,” recalls Melyssa. Two hours after the couple arrived at the hospital, their son Jace was born at 1lb. 12 oz. Beverly Hospital stabilized Jace and arranged for immediate transport to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Read Full Story | Leave a Comment

What Can I do to Protect My Kids from Seeing Inappropriate Fashion Catalogs?

Michael RichQ: I recently received the Spring 2015 Catalog from the department store Barneys New York. The catalog was sent to my house without any envelope or sleeve to protect it from being opened by kids, even though it contains pictures that I believe are inappropriate for young children. What can be done to prevent such mailings in the future? Are there any laws that govern how such catalogs are sent?

– Mad about mail, USA

Read Full Story | Leave a Comment