Sleep, Sleep Disorders, and Biological Rhythms
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National Institutes of Health
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
National Center on Sleep Disorders Research

Sleep, Sleep Disorders, and Biological Rhythms

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Teacher's Guide

Introduction to Sleep, Sleep Disorders, and Biological Rhythms

Sleep is an essential life process. It is as important to our well-being as the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. Unfortunately, it is easy to take sleep for granted. Busy people sometimes regard sleep as a waste of time. They take time away from sleep to tend to affairs of the day. Sleep deprivation is a common feature of our society, affecting children and adults alike. As a nation, we are increasingly a sleep-deprived people, and we pay a price for it.

Lack of sleep reduces our alertness, impairs our judgment, and affects our moods. Impairments to alertness and judgment due to sleep deprivation not only lead to a loss of productivity at school or work, but also contribute to increased accident rates. It is especially important that young people preparing to drive recognize the dangers of drowsy driving. To be credible, such educational messages must be based on science.

What Are the Objectives of the Module?

Sleep, Sleep Disorders, and Biological Rhythms has four objectives. The first is to help students understand the importance of sleep to our health and to understand the consequences of poor sleep or lack of sleep. By focusing on the biology of sleep, the module seeks to help students understand why good sleep hygiene is important to their lives.

The second objective is to use sleep as a way of understanding important scientific concepts. Lessons in this module help students sharpen their skills in observation, critical thinking, experimental design, and data analysis. They also make connections to other disciplines such as English, mathematics, and social science.

The third objective is to convey to students the purpose of scientific research. Ongoing research affects how we understand the world around us and gives us the foundation for improving our choices about our personal health and the health of our community. In this module, students experience how science provides evidence that can be used to understand and treat human disease. Because the mission of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute includes helping the public understand the importance of sleep to their health, the Institute believes that education is an important venue for accomplishing this mission. The lessons in this module encourage students to think about the relationships among knowledge, choice, behavior, and human health in this way:

Knowledge (what is known and not known) + Choice = Power

Power + Behavior = Enhanced Human Health

The final objective of this module is to encourage students to think in terms of these relationships now and as they grow older.

Why Teach the Module?

High school biology classes offer an ideal setting for integrating many areas of student interest. In this module, students participate in activities that integrate inquiry science, human health, mathematics, and science-technology-society relationships. The real-life context of the module’s classroom lessons is engaging for students, and the knowledge gained can be applied immediately to students’ lives.

“I overheard a student say, ‘Boy, did I learn a lot—and it was fun! I learned about EEGs, EMGs, and it was painless.’”–Field-Test Teacher

“I like the way it involves a lot of group work. The sleep diary was my favorite part because it told me something about how I sleep. This whole unit was interesting.”–Field-Test Student

What’s in It for the Teacher?

Sleep, Sleep Disorders, and Biological Rhythms meets many of the criteria by which teachers and their programs are assessed.

In addition, the module provides a means for professional development. Teachers can engage in new and different teaching practices, such as those described in this module, without completely overhauling their entire program. In Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Science and Mathematics, Susan Loucks-Horsley et al.19 write that supplements such as this one “offer a window through which teachers get a glimpse of what new teaching strategies look like in action.” By experiencing a short-term unit, teachers can “change how they think about teaching and embrace new approaches that stimulate students to problem solve, reason, investigate, and construct their own meaning for the content.” The use of a supplemental unit such as this module can encourage reflection and discussion, and stimulate teachers to improve their practices by focusing on student learning through inquiry.

The following table correlates topics often included in the biology curriculum with the major concepts presented in this module. This information is presented to help teachers make decisions about incorporating this material into the curriculum.

Correlation of Sleep, Sleep Disorders, and Biological Rhythms to High School Biology
Topic Pre-lesson Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4 Lesson 5
Organisms maintain a dynamic equilibrium. topic contained in pre-lesson topic contained in lesson 1 topic contained in lesson 2 topic contained in lesson 3 topic contained in lesson 4  
Organisms respond to their environment through their behavior.   topic contained in lesson 1 topic contained in lesson 2   topic contained in lesson 4 topic contained in lesson 5
Living systems share many features reflecting their common ancestry.       topic contained in lesson 3    
Science and technology influence, and are influenced by, society.           topic contained in lesson 5
The nature of science is to propose questions, gather evidence, and answer questions based on that evidence. topic contained in pre-lesson topic contained in lesson 1 topic contained in lesson 2 topic contained in lesson 3 topic contained in lesson 4 topic contained in lesson 5

Next: Implementing the Module

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