N.M. schools roll out high-tech sleep pods for students

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Students in  New Mexico are learning that a short nap can sometimes save a day that isn’t going right.

Two high schools in the Las Cruces Public Schools district and two in the Gadsden Independent School District are using high-tech sleep pods for students. The sleep pods, made by MetroNaps, include a reclined chair with a domed sensory-reduction bubble that closes around one’s head and torso. They were purchased through grants from the New Mexico Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico.

The pods generally feature a one-touch start button that activates a relaxing sequence of music and soothing lights. Some have headphones. At the end of 20 minutes, the pod begins to vibrate gently and an uptempo beat gradually starts playing to wake the student.

Las Cruces and Gasden are the only school districts in the nation using the pods.

The first one, purchased in 2008, was installed at Gadsden High School. Linda Summers, an associate professor in the school of nursing at New Mexico State University, helped secure the grant after discovering the pods — which were being used in a sleep lounge in the basement of the Empire State Building.

“Tired New Yorkers would go down there for a short nap in the middle of the day,” she said.

A multitude of uses

Summers, meanwhile, was looking for something better than cots to help students coming to school insufficiently rested. After the sleep pod arrived at the school-based health center, she learned it had other benefits for students and faculty.

“If they came to us and they were tired, we stuck them in there,” Summers said. “If they had a headache, we stuck them in there. If a teacher had high blood pressure, we stuck him in there.”

Of 100 students who used the pod, 99 were able to return to class within 20 minutes — with tremendous increases in energy and mood, Summers said.

It even helped calm down agitated students who had been involved in fights.

In 2011, Summers secured federal funding for three more for local schools.

‘These were the stories’

Sandy Peugh, a longtime school nurse who is now the health services director for the Las Cruces school district, said she first saw the benefit of the sleep pods when she was a nurse at Las Cruces High.

“We found, as we were using them at the high school, that it was great for kids who weren’t getting enough sleep at night — which teenagers don’t, for a variety of reasons,” Peugh said. “They were coming to school exhausted, and we’d put them in the pod. Within 20 minutes, they were coming out refreshed and focused, and they were able to stay at school, so instruction time wasn’t missed.”

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Instead of checking out and going home, students were able to return to class and finish the school day, Peugh said.

“It really was beneficial, educationally, to put them in the pod for 20 minutes and send them back to class, rather than have them miss half a day,” she said. “And it wasn’t just kids who had sleep issues. It worked on kids who had anxiety — extremely gifted kids who might have test anxiety. Teachers came in, stressed out, and we’d put them in the pod.”

Peugh said the pods are used with discretion and might be used four or five times in a typical day.

“What I found amazing was how, after resting, students would tell you what was going on in their lives,” she said. “They’d say, ‘This is nice, because I sleep in my car. I’m homeless.’ Or, ‘There are 15 people at my house, in a two-bedroom place, so we don’t get to sleep well at night.’ These were the stories we were hearing.”

Students share stories

“This past year has been really bad for me — to the point where I just didn’t go to school for a really long time,” said Aory Ramirez, a junior at Las Cruces High who struggles with anxiety. Aory said the first time she tried the sleep pod, it actually made her anxiety worse.

“It felt like it was trying too hard to calm me down,” she laughed. “But after about 10 minutes, I fell asleep, and when I woke up I was better.”

In the past couple years, she has returned to the sleep pod “more than 20 times,” she said.

Stefanie Gutierrez, a junior, said she has used the sleep pod three times to recover from anxiety attacks. School demands, including major assignments, long hours spent studying and athletics, had begun to pile up.

“I almost passed out on the way to math class, so my friend took me to the nurse,” Stefanie said. “They put me in the sleep pod. At first, I was still hyperventilating and thought I was going to pass out. But within two minutes, I noticed my breathing had calmed down. Within about 12 minutes, I actually fell asleep.”

When she woke up, she felt better and was able to return to class.

“I felt like someone was comforting me, actually,” Stefanie said. “I was safe. It felt like I was safe.”

A migraine sent Hannah Vanderkooy, a senior, to the nurse’s office. The nurse recommended the sleep pod.

“I thought, ‘This isn’t going to stop a migraine,’” Hannah said. “Because a migraine is serious. I was already starting to lose my vision on the sides. Even though I have a lot of sleep issues — I have to be in a certain position to fall asleep — but I was out in four minutes.”

When she awoke, her headache had “lessened considerably,” she said.

“It was really, really effective,” Hannah said.

(© Las Cruces Sun-News)


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