Wellness at Penn finds high student engagement in sleep, sexual health programming

Wellness at Penn, located at the Student Health and Counseling office at 3624 Market St.
Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Wellness at Penn is continuing to provide students with health education through their email-based programs, “Refresh” and “Penn’s Declassified Sex Survival Guide.” 

The “Refresh” program runs for seven weeks each semester and promises results in improving overall sleep quality in Penn students. “Penn’s Declassified Sex Survival Guide” offers six units for students to explore information and tips to help improve sexual health and relationships. 

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

The “Refresh” program — which was launched in 2018 and adapted from a program at Stanford — has enrolled around 4,800 Penn students since the program’s launch, according to Lauren Cordova, Wellness at Penn’s associate director of wellbeing initiatives. The course includes topics on the circadian clock, bedtime relaxation exercises, sleep time strategies, mindfulness meditation, sleep environments, and sleep stress. 

Cordova told The Daily Pennsylvanian that sleep was among the most common health topics college students wanted to improve.

“Our National College Health Assessment data results from Penn showed that sleep was an area of need amongst our students,” Cordova said. “That prompted that initial adaptation of ‘Refresh’. The launch was wildly successful; we had 800 people register for the very first semester of ‘Refresh.’”

Cordova attributed high recruitment numbers partly to the email-based asynchronous nature of the program, as there are no assignments or obligations besides taking in the information. 

“It is directly handing education to Penn students and letting them absorb that however they see fit,” Cordova said. “And then, when we got the results back, it showed that it was positively impacting students’ sleep and sleep habits.”

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

“It really all around just feels like a huge win,” Cordova added.

With great success in the “Refresh” program, Wellness at Penn developed “Declassified” — another asynchronous email-based program for students. The “Declassified” program was launched in 2020, right before the onset of COVID-19. 

Topics in “Declassified” range from communication about sex, foundations of sexual health, STIs, disease prevention and support, preparation and protection, and holistic sexual health. Since its creation, over 2,000 students have taken advantage of the program. 

Cordova told the DP that her personal background in sex education heavily contributed to her development of “Penn’s Declassified Sex Survival Guide”.

“We were drawn to sexual health as a candidate for this because sexual health can be stigmatized for some students,” Cordova said. “Engaging with sexual health programs, particularly in person, does not feel accessible to everyone depending on their background and comfort.”

Wellness at Penn continues to see positive impacts on knowledge and attitudes about safer sex practices and on subjects like HIV testing and communication. 

“We’re always looking for new and innovative ways to share programming with the students,” Wellness at Penn Director of Communications Mary Kate Coghlan said. “And we work very closely with our student advisory boards to get feedback from them about how and when they want to receive outreach.”

Students who are interested in these programs for spring 2024 can add their name to the waitlist and be notified when registration opens. 

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