NIH researchers hope to reduce significant burden of sleep disorders

January 11, 2022

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Source: Healio interview

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A new NIH sleep research plan aims to ensure everyone sleeps well and reduce the economic impact of sleep-related disorders.

According to the NIH, 30 to 40% of adults in the United States and 65 to 80% of teenagers report sleep problems such as poor sleep, irregular sleep patterns, and poor quality sleep. NIH-cited data shows the health cost of sleep deprivation, including burden of disease, accidents, and lost productivity, runs to nearly $ 411 billion each year.

The sleep research plan, recently developed by the NIH-affiliated National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, is the fourth such endeavor since Congress ordered the creation of a sleep research center and comprehensive sleep research plan in 1993. Marishka K. Brown, PhD, the director of the center, said Healio.

“As science advances and new and exciting scientific discoveries materialize, we are essentially trying to capture the growth of the field and future research opportunities,” she said in an interview. “The sleep research plan primarily provides a vision of where the research is going.”

The goals of the sleep research plan are:

  • “To clarify sleep and the circadian mechanisms that underlie health and disease;”
  • “To improve the management of sleep and circadian disorders and reduce the risk of sleep deprivation and circadian misalignment;”
  • “Identify gaps and opportunities to accelerate clinical implementation of sleep and circadian research and protect public health;”
  • “Advance the scientific understanding of sleep and the circadian contribution to health inequalities in different populations and their different effects on the public safety of these populations;” and
  • “Promote the development of a strong and diverse workforce for sleep and circadian research.”

The sleep research plan also describes several important ways to achieve these goals. This includes the development of “chronotherapeutic approaches to the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases”, the identification of sleep and circadian biomarkers to determine the severity of sleep-related diseases and the effectiveness of interventions, as well as the search for “people-oriented approaches” to raise public awareness of sleep and circadians Rhythms.

In the interview, Brown discussed how sleep medicine has evolved since the last research plan was published in 2011, how the results can affect clinical practice, and more.

Healio: What are some of the major breakthroughs that have been made in sleep medicine recently?

Brown: Research has enabled a better understanding of the underlying biological processes that work together and how they are related to sleep and circadian research. This has allowed sleep and circadian biology to move forward at a fast, exhilarating pace outside of their respective domains.

An important step in this understanding came in 2017 when the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded for the discovery of a molecular mechanism that controls the circadian rhythm, or the circadian block in our brain that works with all other clocks throughout the body. Further research has since shown that incorrect timing of the brain clock and / or the peripheral clocks is linked to health challenges and problems such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. This discovery enables researchers to better understand how the relationships between sleep, circadian biology, health, and disease work. Understanding these processes was really exciting.

Healio: How is the Sleep Reseek P.lan build on itat the discovery?

Brown: Researchers recently studied people who worked a shift outside of traditional working hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Building on years of research, this group discovered that the time people ate had an impact on their health. This study has identified new opportunities that have not been explored in real-world settings, and these results could lead to the development of interventions that can protect the health of shiftworkers. It complements the concept that sleep is a vital part of health by advancing the line of research linking metabolic health to sleep. The study is an example that could lead to future breakthroughs and one of many studies the Plan will use to help meet its goals.

Healio: What other questions do you hope this research effort will answer, and how could the answers potentially transform clinical practice?

Brown: The opportunities outlined in the plan will further our understanding that sleep is a necessary condition for general health and wellbeing, and is as important as diet and physical activity in preventing disease.

General practitioners and their teams are at the forefront of the healthcare system, communicating regularly with patients and being able to assess patients in the context of their overall medical condition. You are at the forefront of the public health agenda, and now it is time to raise awareness of the importance of the relationship between sleep and health. Over the past two decades there have been hundreds of epidemiological studies, as well as studies of physiology and mechanisms that have defined how sleep health affects patient outcomes in virtually every dimension of the medical system. For general practitioners, this plan could highlight consideration of how sleep can be integrated to improve patient experience and satisfaction.

Healio: Is there anything else you want to add?

Brown: Patients whose poor sleep is affecting their quality of life should be encouraged to discuss this with their doctor, as the sleep problems could indicate an underlying pathology that could affect their overall health.


National Institutes of Health sleep research plan. Accessed December 20, 2021.

New NIH Sleep Research Plan Published. research-plan-released. Published December 13, 2021. Accessed December 20, 2021.

Request for Information: Responding to proposed critical opportunities and strategic goals of the NIH Sleep Disorder Research Plan. Accessed December 20, 2021.

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