Students compete to help their classmates fall asleep

For their Public Health Communication class, students pitch ideas in a (friendly) ‘Shark Tank’-style to promote healthy sleep habits on campus.

It’s 10:30 a.m., and four students in the Annenberg School for Communication’s Andy Tan’s course Public Health Communication in the Digital Age are standing in front of their classmates.

Their slide deck is queued up, a timer is set for 15 minutes, and a panel of judges sit in the front row, ready to evaluate the team’s elevator pitch.

Chloe Hunter, Rachel Miller, Ally Riley, Jonah Charlton holding tote bags in front of a wall that reads “Sleep Hygiene Campaign Award goes to…”
Team ZZZ (from left to right): Chloe Hunter, Rachel Miller, Ally Riley, and Jonah Charlton. (Image: Annenberg School for Communication)

Since the start of the semester, Tan’s students have been preparing for this—a chance to present a unique digital health campaign to Wellness at Penn as part of a “Shark Tank”-style competition.

These presentations are the culmination of months-worth of research on how to motivate students at Penn to get more (and better) sleep.

According to the ACHA-National College Health Assessment survey, about 40% of Penn students report that they get less than 7 hours of sleep on weeknights, despite the fact that insufficient sleep can negatively impact grades, memory, mood, and health. Tan’s students are on a mission to change that.

In teams of four, students used the tools of health communication—behavioral change theories, formative research using focus groups and surveys, logic models, and more—to develop their campaigns. Some teams created Instagram posts and TikToks. Others designed posters and proposed in-person workshops, created text message campaigns and designed plans for on-campus nap pods.

Every team zeroed in on specific habits that encourage better sleep: effective naps, blue-light-blocking products, avoiding caffeine after 3 p.m., practicing meditation and mindfulness activities, exercising regularly, and developing better time management skills.

Eight teams presented their campaigns to the judges: three representatives from Wellness at Penn—Mary Kate Coghlan, Imani Williams, and Lauren Cordova—as well as Imani Stewart-Jackson, a digital engagement and communications manager for Philly Counts, an initiative to educate Philadelphians about the COVID-19 vaccine. The winning team, Team ZZZ, created a text message program to remind students to practice good sleeping hygiene.

This story is by Hailey Reissman. Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.