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Back To Vidyya NHLBI Launches Sleep And Children Education Program With Garfield The Cat As "Spokescat"

At Least Nine Hours Sleep Each Night Recommended For Children

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) today launched a major five-year educational initiative to reach young children — their parents, teachers, and health care providers — with the message that adequate nighttime sleep — at least nine hours each night — is important to their health, performance, and safety.

At a press conference attended by Garfield the Cat, three Garfield sleep contest winners, 80 D.C. elementary school children, and others, NHLBI Director Dr. Claude Lenfant announced that the campaign is bringing together national and local organizations concerned about children's health and education to implement educational strategies to create greater public awareness of the importance of sleep for young children. The goal is to instill in children — and the adults who most influence them — the understanding that sleep is important to doing your best in whatever you do, including school activities, sports and other extracurricular activities, and good family relationships and friendships.

According to Lenfant, "We want young children to understand that they need at least nine hours of restful sleep each night and to establish a good night's sleep as a lifelong habit. Adequate sleep is associated with good health and performance, as well as fewer accidents, an even more critical issue when children reach adolescence and need to be aware of the dangers of drowsy driving."

Lenfant also announced that Garfield creator Jim Davis and his studio, PAWS, Inc., are co-sponsoring this initiative. "Garfield has tremendous appeal to people of all ages, and messages from Garfield about the importance of sleep should have particular resonance for young children, as well as their parents," he said.

Sleep problems are estimated to affect about 70 million Americans of every age, race, and socioeconomic level, and there is a growing body of scientific evidence showing that inadequate sleep results in tiredness, difficulties with focused attention, irritability, easy frustration, and difficulty modulating impulses and emotions. This is as true for children as it is for adults, although little attention has been paid to the problem of sleep in children.

The campaign is being implemented by the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research (NCSDR), which was created by the Congress in 1993 as an office of the NHLBI. Dr. Carl E. Hunt, Director of the NCSDR, explained that "Sleep disorders are often not recognized in children, and symptoms related to sleep deprivation may be erroneously attributed to hyperactivity or behavior disorders, to boredom with school, or to today's hectic lifestyles."

The campaign's theme is Sleep Well. Do Well., and the goal is to encourage children to get at least nine hours of sleep each night. Said Hunt, "The message is that getting enough sleep each night will help you do your best in whatever you do. This speaks to their need for achievement — in school, in sports, in whatever is important to them."

PAWS, Inc. representative Kim Campbell, joined by Garfield, the campaign's "Star Sleeper," read a letter from Jim Davis, stating "Garfield and I and the folks at PAWS, Inc. are delighted to play a role in this important campaign to teach kids that a good night's sleep is important if you want to do well in school and in sports and be in top form."

Garfield also joined Lenfant in presenting awards to the top three winners of the Garfield "Star Sleeper" contest, which was posted on the NCSDR and PAWS Web Sites in early October 2000: 10-year-old Katie Seamon from Pittsburgh, PA; Xavier Powers, age 8, from Alliance, OH; and 8-year-old Danny Strohman from Duluth, MN.

The two-month contest, which attracted scores of entries from throughout the U.S., challenged children in grades one through five to write the ending for a comic strip which showed Garfield lamenting that he had stayed up too late last night and was so tired today that he did something wrong or silly. The winning entries were: "Kissed Nermal instead of my mirror," from Seamon; "Wore my gloves for shoes and shoes for gloves," provided by Powers; and "Fell asleep in my lasagna pan," submitted by Strohman.

Each child received a large version of the Garfield comic strip with the ending that he or she had suggested. The strip was specially drawn and signed by Davis. The winners also received copies of a new Garfield Star Sleeper Fun Pad, a 48-page book of games and puzzles with embedded sleep messages, and a 16-inch tall plush Garfield doll in his "Star Sleeper" jammies.

The Fun Pad will be distributed to children ages 7-11 through school, youth, and physician groups to educate them about the importance of sleep and good sleep habits. An interactive online version, as well as other sleep education materials, is available on the NHLBI Sleep Web Site at The plush doll will be used for promotional purposes. Both can be ordered through the NHLBI Online catalog at the Fun Pad is also available for download in today's issue of Vidyya.

An important component of the campaign is partnerships with organizations concerned about children's health and education that will help extend the campaign's messages to their own constituents. Organizations that have already agreed to be part of the campaign include the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), and the Capital Children's Museum where the event was held.

Frederick N. Brown, Associate Executive Director for Professional Services of the NAESP recalled that during his 24 years as an elementary school principal, he often observed children who were asleep in class or too tired to concentrate. "It is our hope that early intervention with sleep education messages will help our youngsters understand the importance of sleep so that they will incorporate good sleep habits into their lifestyles at an early point in their lives," he said.

Another partnering organization is the World Public Charter School (WPCS), a Washington, DC elementary school that is part of the Capital Children's Museum. WPCS first grade teacher Philip Duarte and his first grade students demonstrated a classroom session on sleep. To emphasize that an environment conducive to sleep is important, the children were asked to name items that they need to help them get a good night's sleep, just as Garfield needs his teddy bear and his blanket.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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