Penn Health finds high student engagement in sleep and sexual health programs

Penn Health, Student Health and Counseling Office located at 3624 Market St. Image Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Penn Health continues to provide health education to students through the email-based programs “Refresh” and the “Penn Declassified Sex Survival Guide.”

The “Refresh” program, which lasts seven weeks each semester, is expected to improve the overall sleep quality of Penn students. Penn’s Decrypted Sexual Survival Guide offers six units for students to explore information and techniques that can help improve sexual health and relationships.

Both programs are accessible via weekly emails sent directly to students, including PDF lessons. Each program comes with additional supplemental materials, such as a sleep blog for “Refresh” and a resource page for “Declassified” with links to learn more.

Launched in 2018, the Refresh program was adapted from a program at Stanford University and has enrolled approximately 4,800 Penn students since its inception, said Lauren Cordova, associate director of Penn Health Initiatives. The course includes topics such as the biological clock, pre-bed relaxation exercises, sleep timing strategies, mindfulness meditation, sleep environment and sleep stress.

Cordova told The Daily Pennsylvanian that sleep is one of the most common health topics college students want to improve.

“Our National College Health Assessment data from the University of Pennsylvania shows sleep is an area of ​​need for our students,” Cordova said. “This led to the initial adaptation of Refresh. The launch was very successful. 800 people signed up for Refresh in its first semester.”

Cordova attributes the high hiring numbers in part to the asynchronous, email-based nature of the program, as there are no tasks or obligations beyond receiving information.

“It delivers education directly to Penn students, allowing them to absorb it in the way they see fit,” Cordova said. “Then when we got the results back, we found that it had a positive impact on students’ sleep and sleeping habits.”

Cordova added that the program is easier to run because it’s not a big commitment for students.

“This really feels like a huge win,” Cordova added.

Building on the overwhelming success of the “Refresh” program, Penn Wellness developed “Declassified,” another asynchronous email-based program for students. The Declassified program launched in 2020, just before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Topics in Decoded include sexual communication, sexual health basics, sexually transmitted infections, disease prevention and support, preparedness and protection, and overall sexual health. Since its inception, more than 2,000 students have benefited from the program.

Cordova told the photojournalist that her personal background in sex education greatly contributed to her writing “Penn’s Declassified Sex Survival Guide.”

“The reason we focus on sexual health is because sexual health can be stigmatized by some students,” Cordova said. “Participation in sexual health programs, especially in person, is not something everyone can participate in, and it depends. Their background and comfort level.”

Penn Health continues to have a positive impact on topics such as knowledge and attitudes about safe sex and HIV testing and communication.

“We are always looking for new, innovative ways to share programming with students,” said Mary Kate Coghlan, director of communications for Penn Health. “We work closely with the student advisory committee to get feedback from them on how and when they would like to receive outreach.”

Students interested in these courses in Spring 2024 can add their names to the waitlist and be notified when registration opens.

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