June 15, 2022

Connecting with communities to improve sleep education

By Kaya Persad

Samuel Yang spent last summer working with WCHRI member Kate Storey, an associate professor in the School of Public Health and Stollery Science lab Distinguished Researcher, incorporating the perspectives and suggestions of students, parents and teachers in improving school-based sleep education.

What program are you in right now and why did you choose it?
I’m currently a second-year medical student at the University of Alberta. Along with my passion for healthcare and sciences, I chose medicine because there’s a lot of room for leadership, problem-solving and challenges. Additionally, I want to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives through long-term relationships with patients.

What kind of medicine are you hoping to practice?
For now, I’m thinking of either family medicine or internal medicine because of their broad-based focus on body systems and there is room for a lot of patient interaction.

What are some highlights from your summer research? And how have your results influenced the direction of the project?
My project analyzed parent, teacher and student interviews regarding school-based sleep promotion strategies. The main takeaway was that when students learn about sleep hygiene, they spread that information to their friends and family, showing that students can be change-makers in their social environments. Both parents and teachers believe that there should be collaboration between the home and the school environments for promoting healthy sleep. 

For future research, we want to identify themes from the interviews to create strategies and products that can be used to inform and strengthen school-based sleep promotion for different audiences.

How do you believe the research that you’ve done with WCHRI will influence your future practice as a physician? Are there any changes in your goals based on that research?
This research has helped broaden my view of medicine as it focused on public health. It really is the foundation for preventing so many chronic diseases. Now that I am aware of how important public health is, it is something I will have on my mind as I practice medicine. I want to ensure that I talk with my future patients about factors like limiting stress, improving lifestyle through exercise and diet, quality sleep and staying up to date on vaccinations and screening.

Why do you think this research is important? And how do you think it influences children and their families in the community?
We need sleep to have good cognitive, physical and social performance. Sleep is critical for children as it is the foundation of growth. This is especially important for students, as we have seen that healthy and well-slept students learn better. What’s also great about this research is the connection to communities. School communities want to know what role they can play in improving children’s sleep.

Did you encounter any obstacles or surprises during your summer studentship? And how did you overcome them?
My biggest obstacle was the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the work was online and I was worried it would be very isolating. While it did limit what I was able to do, the lab made an effort to meet over Zoom often and maintain interpersonal interactions.

What piece of advice have you received from a supervisor or a mentor that sticks with you?
I have two main pieces of advice that I received:

  1. Foster good relationships within research, whether it’s within your lab or with other collaborators. 
  2. If you are interested in getting involved, you should go for it and not let the fear of rejection get in the way of doing something that you want to do. There are a lot of opportunities out there, you must go out of your comfort zone and reach out.

Do you have any advice for students looking to go into medicine?
Don’t feel rushed when preparing to go into medicine. Take your time, explore your interests, continue your hobbies and enjoy your time in undergraduate and/or graduate school. Many of my classmates are mature students and I’m always fascinated with their life and academic experiences.

Sam’s quick tips for improving sleep hygiene:

  • Have a cooler temperature for your sleep environment.
  • Don’t use electronic devices before going to sleep.
  • Try and be consistent with your sleep and wake-up schedule.
  • Try to include physical activity in your daily routine.
  • Don’t drink coffee before bed.

Samuel Yang was supervised by Kate Storey. His summer studentship project was funded by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through WCHRI.

Kaya Persad is a member of WCHRI’s Trainee Advisory Committee.