As we turn to fall, the days become shorter, the nights longer and the weather cooler.  This sounds like a good plan for better and more sleep! 

I read with interest the recent editorial about Dr. William Dement in the journal SLEEP.  As everyone in the sleep field knows, Dr. Dement is a true champion of the field and an advocate for public education.  We should all strive to do the same – promote good sleep habits, discuss the importance of sleep disorders and not be ashamed or reluctant to tell people what our profession is or interests are because it is not “sexy” or “flashy.”  I do not need to regale this audience with the statistics about how sleep deprivation impacts our economy, personal lives or health.  Every one of us should be on our soapbox telling everyone we know about the importance of sleep. 

How do we get their attention?  Lack of sleep doesn’t result in death; most sleep disorders do not cause death – so does that make them less important?  No, I don’t think so.  First, it appears that some actually may result in increased mortality – certainly the data for obstructive sleep apnea suggests increased mortality, as does the presence of a Cheyne-Stokes breathing pattern in patients with heart failure.  A recent study in SLEEP suggested that patients who attempted or committed suicide were more likely to have insomnia issues.  We don’t have as much data on other sleep disorders with regards to mortality, but there is ample data about increased morbidity.

Let’s all work toward increasing public awareness about sleep and its disorders.  Have your sleep lab participate in local health fairs.  Support patient advocacy groups related to sleep disorders.  Use the opportunities when you see patients with or without sleep disorders to discuss the importance of sleep to their health – and, if their family member is in the room, they can hear it also!  Post or have information about sleep and sleep disorders in your sleep laboratory and clinic waiting rooms.  Do grand rounds at your hospital or give continuing education talks to your hospital employees. 

Each one of us can be an “apostle” of Dr. Dement and spread the word about sleep.  It IS important, and we need to be the ones to educate the public.  If we all do our part, the information will start to seep into the public domain!

Nancy Collop, MD