Pediatric pulmonologist and sleep medicine physician Funke Afolabi-Brown, MD, is on a mission to educate and empower women and children to prioritize sleep. This fall, she’s launching a holistic telemedicine-based sleep practice for patients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Tell us about your medical background.

I obtained my medical school training in Nigeria, after which I came to the U.S. for my pediatric residency at Maimonides Infants and Children’s Hospital New York. I then completed a pediatric pulmonary fellowship training at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. After a few years of working as a pediatric pulmonologist, I ultimately pursued a fellowship in sleep medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

You’ve shared that your experience as a mother of children with sleep issues was impactful to your career. How did your personal experience lead you to focus on educating and empowering women and children to prioritize sleep?

My mission to help female professionals and their children prioritize sleep came from my own personal sleep struggles. I went through decades of sleep issues, including a combination of chronic insomnia and sleep deprivation, right from medical school, and  as a busy physician who also had young children. I had to stop seeing sleep deprivation as a badge of honor and work on my sleep issues. This was when my life changed. I realized during my journey that a lot of the issues related to anxiety, burnout, and other mental health issues were closely linked to poor sleep. Also, when I started seeing patients in my clinic, the consistent theme I saw was sleep-deprived moms (and fathers, too!) coming to see me with their kids. The transformation I saw in the parents’ sleep when I helped their kids sleep better motivated me to build my practice with a family-centered approach.

You recently announced the launch of your private practice, The Restful Sleep Place. Tell us about your new practice and what prompted you to launch it.

Yes, I am truly excited to announce that my practice, The Restful Sleep Place, will launch in October 2023. This is a direct specialty care model and telemedicine practice that will provide sleep services to children and young adults. The model is different from the current, traditional model as it will allow me to focus on a holistic approach to sleep care by providing families with the support they need, tailored to them while aligning with their values. Typically, it takes months to see me in a traditional clinic model, but with The Restful Sleep Place, the model will allow patients easier access to care without feeling rushed while they have all their questions answered. The bonus is that the care will be provided in the comfort of their own home. As I am currently licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, patients will have to reside in these states.

Why did you decide to adopt a telemedicine-based model for your new practice?

I opted for a telemedicine-based approach for my new practice because sleep medicine lends itself to this model. Unlike other systems, most sleep disorders, especially in pediatrics, do not need a complete in-person examination. This idea stemmed from the experience I had when caring for sleep patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. We could pivot to telehealth-based care and got great family feedback about how convenient it was. When I also consider children with neurodiverse conditions who get overwhelmed with in-person visits, I believe this model suits them very well.

You also work as a speaker, coach, educator and consultant. Of your many hats, what are you most passionate about and why?

Yes, you can consider me a multi-passionate woman. One consistent theme runs through my work, which is education and empowerment. I believe transformation started from the place of knowledge, and one thing I pride myself on is providing distilled sleep knowledge in a practical and relatable way while providing the results people seek, which is good sleep.

What do you think is the most important advice you give to help busy women make sleep a priority?

To prioritize sleep, I encourage busy women to set boundaries around their sleep. See your sleep health as critical to your overall health and well-being. An analogy I use is a situation where you see a multidisciplinary team for a health condition. You would probably not trivialize the appointment and commit to showing up. Well, think of sleep as a multidisciplinary appointment that occurs every night. You are seeing multiple “specialists” (brain health, physical health, immune function regulation, metabolic functions). When we see sleep with this perspective, it helps us change our relationship with it.

This article appeared in volume eight, issue three of Montage magazine.