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The Latest on Sleep Medicine from A to Zzz's

We’re constantly bombarded with news emphasizing the importance of sleep, but few of us dedicate the time and effort recommended by experts to improve our “sleep hygiene.” The general public largely still lacks an understanding of the importance of quality sleep, or simply ignores the science. A 2015 consensus statement in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine recommends seven or more hours of sleep for healthy adults, but recent reports show more than a third of adults in the United States don’t get enough sleep.

Additionally, an estimated 50-70 million U.S. adults have a sleep or wakefulness disorder. Countless studies have shown an association between short sleep and high blood pressure, obesity, coronary heart disease, poor mental and physical performance, and death. For many of these Americans, just devoting more time to sleep is not enough. Fortunately, each year, many of the nation’s leading sleep clinicians and researchers gather to share recent progress made in addressing sleep apnea, insomnia, circadian rhythm disorders, and other issues plaguing society today.

This year’s meeting, SLEEP 2017, the 31st annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC (APSS), gathered such experts in Boston for poster and speaker sessions on the latest ongoing research in sleep and circadian science. 

For example, ongoing work led by Namni Goel, PhD, a research associate professor of psychology in Psychiatry, and senior author Kelly Allison, PhD, an associate professor of psychology in Psychiatry, reveals new insights into how simply changing our meal times can improve our health. Early findings from the Penn team show that prolonged, delayed eating can negatively affect weight control, insulin and cholesterol levels, fat metabolism, and hormonal markers implicated in health problems like heart disease and diabetes. “You have to live your life,” Goel said in articles from the Philadelphia Inquirer and Reader’s Digest about the findings. “But if you can do that 80 percent of the time, that seems to have benefits.”

Another story followed research by Ivan Vargas, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow, and Michael Perlis, PhD, an associate professor of Psychiatry and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program, which provides new an understanding on the association between suicidal thoughts and different groups of insomnia sufferers, which may reveal insights for intervention.

“It’s a bad thing to be awake when reason sleeps,” said Perlis. “Being awake at night, coupled with the decreased frontal lobe function that happens with sleep loss may explain the mechanism for how insomnia relates with suicide risk.”

In addition to new research presentations, the meeting was filled with informative sessions, too. Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, an associate professor of sleep and chronobiology, presented the latest results on sleep duration and circadian rhythms during 520-day simulated mission to Mars. Basner and colleagues published a related paper on this mission in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finding disrupted sleep intervals, more sleep taking place during the daytime, performance deficits resulting from sleep deprivation, and lower perceived sleep quality among the crew. Co-author on the study, David F. Dinges, PhD, chief of the division of Sleep and Chronobiology, and director of the Unit for Experimental Psychiatry, also reported new data at the meeting on sleep duration and neurobehavioral performance of 24 astronauts during a six month NASA mission. "Not everybody is affected to the same degree," said Dinges recently in a article on the rigors of spaceflight. "This is one of the great mysteries we're now confronting."

Dinges was also recognized with the Nathaniel Kleitman Distinguished Service Award from AASM for dedication to the sleep field. Started in 1981, the Nathaniel Kleitman Distinguished Service Award recognizes individuals dedicated to the sleep field who have made significant contributions in the areas of administration, public relations and government affairs.

During the meeting, Ilene Rosen, MD, MSCE, an associate professor of Clinical Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine and program director of the Penn Sleep Fellowship, was elected the 32nd president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) board of directors. Rosen is serving a one-year term as the Academy’s 2017-2018 president, which began on June 5. More information is available here.

On my last day of the meeting, as I stepped into the elevator to check out from my hotel room – Sleep 2017 bag in tow – a man said to me, “So, how’s the sleep conference, do they basically teach people how to sleep?”

Another man in the elevator next to me said, “People who don’t work in sleep medicine just don’t understand.”

Though it’s clear that more work needs to be done to improve the public’s awareness of sleep science, this meeting is evidence that progress is made every day toward understanding the vital role that sleep plays in overall health. 


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