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Garfield Is 'Spokescat'
NHLBI Launches Children's Sleep Initiative

By Ellen Sommer

On the Front Page...

NHLBI recently kicked off a major 5-year educational initiative to reach children ages 7-11, their parents, teachers and health care providers, with the message that adequate nighttime sleep — most children need at least 9 hours each night — is important to their health, performance and safety.

Continued...

The initiative is bringing together national and local organizations to implement strategies to create greater public awareness of the importance of sleep for young children. The goal is to instill in children 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.

"We want young children to understand that they need at least 9 hours of restful sleep each night and to establish a good night's sleep as a lifelong habit," said NHLBI director Dr. Claude Lenfant. "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."

NHLBI director Dr. Claude Lenfant welcomes Garfield and the three sleep contest winners (from l) Xavier Powers, Danny Strohman and Katie Seamon.

He also announced that Garfield creator Jim Davis and his studio, PAWS, Inc., are cosponsoring 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," Lenfant 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 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, whose theme is "Sleep Well. Do Well.," is being implemented by the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at NHLBI. Center director Dr. Carl E. Hunt explained, "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."

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 Hunt in presenting awards to three youngsters who won a Garfield sleep contest, which was posted on the NCSDR and PAWS web sites in October 2000: 10-year-old Katie Seamon from Pittsburgh; Xavier Powers, age 9, from Alliance, Ohio; and 8-year-old Danny Strohman from Duluth, Minn.

The 2-month contest, which attracted scores of entries from throughout the U.S., challenged children in grades 1 through 5 to write the ending for a comic strip that 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. An interactive online version, as well as other sleep education materials, are available on the NHLBI sleep web site at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/sleep.

An important component of the campaign is partnerships with organizations concerned about children's health. Organizations that have signed on include the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Capital Children's Museum in D.C., which hosted the kickoff event.

Another partnering organization is the World Public Charter School, a Washington, D.C., elementary school located at the Capital Children's Museum. Philip Duarte, a first-grade teacher there, and his students demonstrated a classroom session on sleep. To emphasize that an environment conducive to sleep is important, the children were asked to say what they need to help them get a good night's sleep, just as Garfield needs his teddy bear and his blanket. Some of their answers: a teddy bear, a story, a warm bath and a relaxation tape.


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