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Rebecca Robbins, MMSci, PhD, MS (left), and Chana A. Sacks, MD, PhD
Rebecca Robbins, MMSci, PhD, MS (left), and Chana A. Sacks, MD, MPH
2022 Winners:
Rebecca Robbins, MMSci, PhD, MS

Instructor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Associate Scientist, Department of Medicine, Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Chana A. Sacks, MD, MPH

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Clinician Investigator, Massachusetts General Hospital


Sleep Superheroes: Cultivating Healthy Sleep Behaviors for Youth Impacted by Gun Violence

The traumatic ripple effects of gun violence are far-reaching, particularly for children with loved ones involved in a shooting. Children who lose a caregiver due to gun violence are especially vulnerable. Currently, the available sources of mental health support in the wake of gun violence do not adequately address disrupted sleep—a condition that develops as a consequence of exposure to violence that may increase the risk of longer-term physical and mental health consequences following these traumatic events.

With Stepping Strong Center funding, co-investigators Drs. Rebecca Robbins and Chana Sacks are creating a multimedia educational resource called “Sleep Superheroes,” which will be delivered in a just-in-time format by trained social workers. Their goal with this pilot project is to cultivate healthy sleep and relaxation strategies among youth impacted by gun violence. A top priority in this intervention is the co-creative process that centers on youth, parents, and caregivers who have been impacted by gun violence, with a specific focus on those communities that are most affected.

Project objectives include identifying modifiable barriers to sleep health among children aged 6 to 12 years old who have experienced gun-related traumatic exposure; designing superhero characters and animated video storyboards; working with parents and caregivers impacted by gun violence to co-create Sleep Superheroes materials; and enlisting feedback from an interdisciplinary advisory board of gun violence prevention and sleep researchers. These inputs will be used to provide final adjustments to the Sleep Superheroes intervention, which will then be formally evaluated for its impact on sleep and mental health among youth impacted by gun violence.


Rebecca Robbins, MMSci, PhD, MS, is an instructor at Harvard Medical School and an associate scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Her research uses marketing and novel communication tools and technologies to design persuasive behavior change interventions to improve sleep and circadian health. Her research has appeared in JAMA Network Open, Plos ONE, Sleep Health, Prevention Science, Health Communication, Preventing Chronic Disease, and the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. In 2011, Dr. Robbins co-authored a book on techniques for how to get good sleep entitled Sleep for Success! with Dr. James B. Maas. Dr. Robbins’ research has appeared in the New York Times, the Financial Times, and Readers’ Digest. Dr. Robbins holds a PhD in communication and health marketing from Cornell University.

Chana A. Sacks, MD, MPH, is a clinician investigator in the Division of Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and the co-director of the MGH Center for Gun Violence Prevention, which she co-founded in 2019. Dr. Sacks attended the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and completed her residency and chief residency in Internal Medicine at MGH. She completed a research fellowship in the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital while completing her MPH at the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Sacks’ research is focused on developing and implementing a public health approach to addressing gun violence in Boston and across the country. Since 2016, she has also been an editor at the New England Journal of Medicine and is currently the executive editor of NEJM Evidence.

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