In the fall of 2016, over 1,000 members of the IU community participated in Healthy IU’s groundbreaking initiative to shed light on the importance of sleep, which included the Sleep Great IU Challenge and the Sleep Walk.

Getting a good night’s sleep empowers us by helping us regulate our mood, prevent chronic disease, improve immune function, and so much more.

And even though we all need it, how we get a good night’s sleep can be one of the most unique things about each of us.

How we get a good night’s sleep can be one of the most unique things about each of us.

In this Journey story, IU employees show us how they took on the challenge of sleeping better.

Campus Wellness Coalition: IU Kokomo

A visit to IU Kokomo gives you the sense that it’s all about community — and that tight-knit community was strongly on display during the 2016 Sleep Walk.

Gabby VanAlstine, director of Human Resources at IUK, explains that the culture is focused on mission. “At its heart, our mission is that we’re here for our students — to let them know we care about them, their health, and their preparation for the future,” she says.

In fall 2016, a campus-wide student health survey* revealed how critical sleep health was for IUK students:

  • 90% of IUK students have had problems with sleepiness during the day, and
  • About 1 in 5 IUK students have had sleep difficulties that disrupted their academic performance.

“I was surprised by the data, but my students were not surprised at all,” says Jessica Henderson, PhD, assistant professor of Health Sciences. “That’s when I knew sleep needed to be a bigger part of the curriculum, and I was going to help promote the Sleep Walk on campus.”

Faculty and staff from across the campus rallied to promote the Sleep Walk and sleep health awareness. The Healthy Initiatives Committee created and distributed a sleep infographic; the Office of Media and Marketing created a fresh, student-focused social media campaign; and faculty even invited their students to participate in the walk with them.

"To walk side-by-side with [my professors] at the Sleep Walk really struck me as leadership by example."

Brittany Hunter, a 2017 graduate in Health Sciences and intern to Dr. Henderson, was impressed by the event. “I really like that the Sleep Walk included everybody on campus. As a student, I was hearing about the importance of sleep from my professors, and to walk side-by-side with them at the Sleep Walk really struck me as leadership by example.”

Hunter even got the chance to practice her skills in health education by discussing the sleep-altering effects of blue light in a video produced by the IUK Office of Media and Marketing.

VanAlstine and her team made sure the day of the Sleep Walk was filled with attention-grabbing fun — bubbles, music, and healthy snacks. But long after the Sleep Walk was over, the message of sleep health still rang clear. Dr. Henderson noted that for her end-of-semester reflection assignment, “half of my students wrote that sleep was the most important thing they’d learned about.”

Faculty and staff came away with some important lessons, too. “I’ve been learning that lack of sleep can affect us all, and now I recognize times when I need to check in with my body and take it easy,” says VanAlstine. “After all, we’re here to give our best — and getting enough sleep puts us at our best.”

*The survey, which IUK participates in every two years, is administered by the American College Health Association and sponsored by the IUK Healthy Initiatives Committee. The survey helps guide efforts for student programming, allows IUK to compare its outcomes with the rest of the country, and provides data for faculty and staff on health issues common to students.

Left: IU Kokomo Sleep Walk; Right: IU Bloomington Sleep Walk

Lena Williams: IU Northwest

Throughout her 17 years as an employee at Indiana University, Lena Williams has seen it all — including, thankfully, the resolution of her Sleep Apnea.

“Before I was diagnosed with Sleep Apnea, I just assumed it was normal to be so tired. I was working two jobs, so I thought that was why I felt exhausted,” says Lena. After her diagnosis, she was able to manage her sleep apnea with a C-PAP machine.

But was during a routine visit to IU Northwest’s Dental Clinic in 2015 that she learned the root of the issue might oversized tonsils. Lena was later able to confirm this with her Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) doctor, which lead to the cure of her sleep apnea by removing her tonsils and uvula. Taking these steps allowed her to sleep better at night — the effects of which have been life changing.

“Sleep is so important. It wasn’t until I started getting restful sleep that I realized how much I had been missing out on,” she says. Before, Lena was taking vitamin B supplements to help her stay energized throughout the day. Her naturally bright and perky personality took some real effort to muster in the morning. But now, “I wake up, I have energy, and I’m ready to go,” she says.

Pay attention to your body and the signs it’s giving you about the quality of your sleep.

Lena has more stamina for physical activity, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator. She also enjoys competing with her Fitbit friends to get the most steps each day. And one of the best parts of getting restful sleep? “I dream now. Before, my body never got to that stage of sleep.”

Lena participated in the Sleep Walk to help raise awareness about the importance of sleep. And when it comes to getting great sleep, she has a couple pieces of advice. First, make it a priority. “Everyone’s life is different, but we can all try something to prioritize sleep more,” she says. For example, knowing when to ease out of a task, instead of staying up past our bedtime. “Whether it’s work, chores, homework, or even leisure activities — it will most certainly be waiting for us tomorrow.”

And second, don’t be afraid to get professional help with sleep if you need it. “There are many sleep-related conditions besides sleep apnea out there. Pay attention to your body and the signs it’s giving you about the quality of your sleep,” she says.

Sleep is so important. It wasn’t until I started getting restful sleep that I realized how much I had been missing out on.

Top: Lena with a fellow IU Northwest Sleep Walk participant; Bottom Left: A participant shows off the Sleep Walk t-shirt; Bottom Right: The IU Northwest Sleep Walk