By Edwin M. Valladares, MS, RPSGT
University of Southern California, USC Sleep Disorders Center

This past Christmas, activity tracking companies made a push towards ensuring future business from the next generation by selling kid friendly activity trackers. Among those responding to the advertisements was our 7-year old son. Our son asked for a Captain America activity tracker, which he proudly wears as he trains towards competing on America Ninja Warrior Junior. This is not a new trend; companies often target the next generation of consumers. Whether it be McDonalds with Happy Meals or America Ninja Warrior through their latest show America Ninja Warrior Junior, companies strive to acquire the next generation’s future business. This occurrence with my son made me think, “Why are we as a sleep community not doing this for the field of sleep medicine and sleep research, when health is at stake?”

Personally, I like to speak with high school and middle school students about sleep medicine and sleep research. I am driven by my love for science and because growing up I didn’t have the exposure to scientific professionals as I would have wanted. I speak at schools and small groups. I provide presentations with different bents, depending on the audience. For instance, I have spoken about “Steps to take to get into biomedical research” and “General sleep physiology”. I also teach an undergraduate level human biology laboratory, where I provide sleep research examples for almost every lab. The end result is not only exposure to the field of sleep and research, but it provides an audience who will grow up aware of sleep disorders and the importance of sleep for themselves, their kids and their aging parents.

At a larger scale, Stanford University began the Sleep Ambassador’s program, which was started by concerned parents. It was birthed by Stanford University’s Dr. William Dement and Dr. Mark Rosekind in 2006. Stanford University students speak to high school students about sleep medicine and importance of sleep. Their goal is to teach as many high school students about the importance of sleep. This has had a tremendous impact as they have expanded into multiple high schools.

Schools and community groups are always looking for volunteers to provide informational talks. As sleep specialists, we have expertise to share and topics that are of interest to a wide variety of groups. We don’t have to be affiliated with an academic center to make a difference. I’d like to encourage all California Sleep Society members to get involved within your community. If each of us offers to give one presentation per year to a class or community center it can have an immediate impact on people’s lives, while changing the lives and mindset of future generations.