Holy Cross Senior Brings Sleep Education Program to Worcester

Classroom lesson inspires psychology major to increase awareness of sleep benefits

Christina Kyriakos’ interest was piqued as soon as she heard about a children’s sleep education program that psychology professor Amy Wolfson mentioned in her Sleep and Behavior course.

The psychology major, who conducts sleep research with Wolfson and Gregory DiGirolamo, associate professor of psychology, visited the website of Sweet Dreamzzz Inc., a non-profit committed to improving the health, well-being and academic performance of at-risk school-aged children by providing sleep education and bedtime essentials.

That’s when the Greenwich, Conn., native had a dream: bring the program to Worcester.

“I was inspired to bring the program to Worcester with the hope of improving the health of at-risk children through sleep hygiene education and the distribution of proper bedtime materials needed for a good night’s sleep,” she says.

Her dream will soon become reality. On March 21, Kyriakos, along with about a dozen other students in Holy Cross’ psychology club, will offer the program to 270 students at Vernon Hill Elementary School. Joining her in the effort will be Brittany Gorski ’13, Elizabeth Harkins ’13, Michaela Johnson ’13, Kendal Presti ’14, Alexandra Risley ’12, Cecile Rivera Llorens ’12, Sarah Schwartz ’11, Allison Shepard ’12, Simon Toledano ’13, Julie Turpin ’11, and Gabriela Velazquez ’12.

Kyriakos, who has concentrations in biological psychology and Peace and Conflict Studies, is working under the guidance of Sweet Dreamzzz Inc., which has already offered the program to more than 30,000 children in the Detroit area. Wolfson, a nationally renowned expert on sleep, is also involved.

On Feb. 27, Ann Raftery, director of sleep programs at Sweet Dreamzzz Inc., visited the Holy Cross campus to train the students. The following day, she gave a talk about Sweet Dreamzzz in Smith Labs 154. The talk, open to the Holy Cross community, is sponsored by the psychology department, psychology club, Student Programs for Urban Development, education department, and Teacher Education Program.

Sweet Dreamzzz' R.E.M. (Rest. Educate. Motivate.) Sleep Program will be replicated at Vernon Hill where 84 percent of the student body is eligible for free or reduced lunch. The program teaches children how to prepare for a good night’s sleep through healthy eating, activities and bedtime routines. Following the interactive 45-minute program, each child will be supplied with a sleep kit that includes a sleeping bag, socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, crayons, stuffed animal and fun sleep educational materials.

While often overlooked, good sleep is essential to well-being and has a sustainable impact on children’s success in learning, Kyriakos explains. According to the National Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep has been linked to childhood obesity, academic difficulties, attention deficit disorder, mood disorders, heart disease and other health issues.

Kyriakos, and her “sleeper teachers,” have been collecting personal donations of items and monetary support from the College community, and reaching out to local businesses and churches for support. Donations have come from St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Worcester, St. Leo Catholic School in Leominster, Price Chopper, and family and friends.

“We hope to extend the program to other Worcester schools in the future,” says Kyriakos. And if the pilot proves successful, Sweet Dreamzzz Inc. plans to open more chapters across the country.