Inadequate sleep underlies all aspects of mental and physical well-being and is associated with serious health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Implementing healthy sleep behaviors can improve sleep outcomes. Nonetheless, dissemination of sleep health information and interventions remains limited. In addition, populations facing health disparities often face racial inequity and economic hardship, furthering their barriers and access to healthcare.
Social workers often serve individuals who experience racial and economic health disparities; thus, they are in an optimal position to promote sleep health among these underserved populations. However, social workers often lack the education and training necessary to promote healthy sleep practices. In fact, social work programs in the United States do not incorporate sleep health training as part of their curriculum.
An online training for social workers targeting sleep health can address this gap. Our research aimed to investigate social work students’ existing knowledge and perspectives on sleep health and their preferences for e-learning delivery methods.
Twenty-five social work students (11 BSW, 14 MSW) with a mean age of 27 (±11.5) participated in one of three focus groups (6-11 participants each). The sample was comprised predominantly racial/ethnic minorities (48% non-Hispanic white; 28% African American; 16% Hispanic/Latinx; 8% other) and 92% identified as female. Participants were recruited via an email sent through the Social Work list serve. The focus groups elicited participant feedback on their current knowledge of sleep health, their desire for further sleep health education, level of comfort navigating online content, and their preferences for online learning techniques. Focus groups were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. The first and second author utilized NVivo software to analyze the data utilizing a content analysis approach to identify major themes.
Major themes include that students have limited exposure to sleep health education and have a desire to further their education surrounding sleep health. Students generally reported poor personal sleep health. Their limited knowledge and personal sleep difficulties surrounded a low sense of self-efficacy in discussing healthy sleep behaviors with their clients. Students identified specific populations that could benefit from sleep health interventions (e.g., parents, adults over 65 yrs, homeless individuals) and expressed a desire for tailored approaches to promote sleep health in clients who may face a myriad of barriers (e.g., low-income).
Several themes emerged surrounding online training, including a desire for e-training to be aesthetically pleasing, interactive, and incorporate experts presenting “TED-style” talks. Students requested case scenarios that focused on diverse populations.
Conclusion and Implications:
Findings highlight that social work students have no/little formal training surrounding sleep health but possess a desire to promote sleep health among their clients to foster overall well-being. Sleep health training for social work students may need a two-fold approach; first to teach students how to manage their own sleep health, then how to disseminate tailored sleep health approaches to vulnerable populations. Specific recommendations for developing a sleep health training for social work students and implications for incorporating sleep health in the field of social work will be presented.