Temitayo Oyegbile-Chidi, MD, PhD, became board chair of the National Sleep Foundation board of directors, on July 1, 2022. She speaks with Sleep Review about advocating for sleep on Capitol Hill, sleep health equity concerns, Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, and more. Sree Roy of Sleep Review and Oyegbile-Chidi discuss:

 -You are a neurologist as well as a sleep and epilepsy specialist. How did your interest develop in understanding sleep disorders in relation to co-existent neurologic and psychiatric conditions?

-What areas of sleep health interest you most?

-Where can we improve for sleep health equity?

-What projects or initiatives is NSF working on that you’d like to highlight?

-You’ve won a Sleep Health Policy Advocacy Award from the National Sleep Foundation. What are some ways that can other healthcare professionals advocate for better sleep?

 To dive deeper:


Review Podcast Transcript

Sree Roy:

Hello and welcome. I’m Sree Roy with Sleep Review and I’m thrilled to be here with Temitayo Oyegbile-Chidi MD PhD. She is a board chair of the National Sleep Foundation Board of Directors, a role she started on July 1st. She is also an associate professor, Department of Neurology at UC Davis. Her practice and research focus on epilepsy and sleep disorders in children and young adults and include functional neuro imaging research on children with epilepsy. She also lends her expertise as an adjunct, Department of Neurology at Georgetown University Hospital. Today we are chatting about sleep health. Please describe your involvement with the National Sleep Foundation over the years.

Dr. Temitayo Oyegbile-Chidi:

Sure. So thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to be here, and this is a nice opportunity to be able to have a discussion with you. So National Sleep Foundation, I have been involved with the National Sleep Foundation since 2016.

I actually got involved because I had been working as a physician for several years, and I noticed that a lot of patients would say to me, “Wow, I didn’t know that we need to get X amount of sleep,” And, “Wow, I didn’t know these things and how come you physicians know all this, but somehow we don’t know it.” And so one thing that was very special about National Sleep Foundation around that time when I was looking around to see how do we advocate for our patients and make sure that we get sleep health out to our patients. I realized organization, National Sleep Foundation, actually focuses primarily on sleep health and sleep advocacy.

And so at that time I got involved with this organization by specifically becoming a fellow, a sleep health policy fellow. And what we would do was that we’d go to Capital Hill in DC and advocate for positive sleep health with different groups of individuals, like positive sleep health in veterans or positive sleep health in the military or in rural communities and things like that. And so we really were focusing on how to get the message out to the public health, so to people out there, as well as making sure that policies on Capitol Hill also incorporated sleep.

So that was the beginning and I really loved my time there. I was there for two years doing health policy work. And then I was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Sleep Foundation in 2019. And then I became chair this year. I really enjoyed working with National Sleep Foundation. And one thing I think is really special and unique about this organization is that they’re a nonprofit organization as you know, but because they’re specifically dedicated to improving health and wellbeing through sleep education and advocacy, they are probably one of the few,, or probably only organizations that specifically focus on sleep health in general public. So yes, this is why I stayed involved in this organization and hope to continue to be involved it as long as they’ll have me.

Sree Roy:

You are a neurologist as well as a sleep and epilepsy specialist. How did your interests develop in understanding sleep disorders in relation to coexistent, neurologic and psychiatric conditions?

Dr. Temitayo Oyegbile-Chidi:

So I kind of knew when I was in medical school that I would probably go into neurology, because my PhD work was in the field of epilepsy. But then there was this talk given during my medical school on sleep and I found it so fascinating. It was one of our lectures.

To find out that sleep is actually very active time, we always think that when we’re sleeping, it’s a time when everything just kind of shut off and everything’s kind of offline basically. And to find out that there’s so much going on, it’s a time to reset. It’s time to recharge. It’s a time to restart things that had kind of wound down. It’s a time to get rid of toxins in the brain, things like that. It was really, really fascinating and exciting.

And then to find out that for me, with my interest in going into epilepsy, I found out that there was a significant connection between sleep and epilepsy, such that people who have epilepsy, they’re more likely to have seizures if they don’t sleep enough. And getting good sleep was really important to improving their epilepsy health, their seizure health, made me realize that, wow, this could actually play a role in several other neurologic and psychiatric disorders. And so that’s where I kind of got hooked. I did a fellowship in sleep at Northwestern with Dr. Phyllis Zee.

And from there on I continued to stay involved. And as we know now, there are many, many disorders associated with sleep. Many even non neurologic disorders. But from a neurologic standpoint, just multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, we’re finding there’s so many disorders, stroke, there’s so many disorders, neurologically that are associated with sleep. From a psychiatric standpoint, mood disorders in general, bipolar, depression and anxiety, schizophrenia, they’re all related to sleep. Having improved sleep improves these disorders.

And we’re even finding that other non neurological disorders, such as diabetes and weight loss or obesity, sleep can play a huge role in them. And so this is what makes sleep so fascinating is that we are just beginning to understand, we’re just seeing right now the tip of the iceberg in terms of how much sleep is involved in our daily health.

And so yeah, this is how I got involved with it and I stayed involved in, I’ve been very active in sleep neurology since then.

Sree Roy:

That is very fascinating. What areas of sleep health interest you the most?

Dr. Temitayo Oyegbile-Chidi:

So as I kind of had mentioned or was alluding to earlier, I find that sleep health that is related to why we sleep, how we sleep, sleep quality, how sleep improves our daily lives, our daily health is really, really what excites me the most. And so this is something that we often don’t always, as physicians, have time to speak with our patients about. Even though it’s so important and we understand it quite well, we tend to find ourselves focusing on a lot of the sleep disorders, like sleep apnea and such.

But you really realize, more and more we’re beginning to understand that sleep health as a preventive measure for several different disorders, be it neurological disorders or non neurologic disorders, metabolic disorders, et cetera, is really, really important and is an area that has really been untapped and should be focused on. We’re beginning to see that it’s possible that Alzheimer’s can be prevented by good sleep health.

We’re noticing that specific sleep patterns are associated with kind of predicting Parkinson’s disorders. We’re finding that getting good sleep can possibly improve or prevent obesity or diabetes type two, or heart attacks, strokes. And so this is really what I’m interested in.

Some of the research that I do right now is trying to understand how improving sleep, improving sleep quality can improve the lives of patients with seizures or epilepsy, which is what I study, but also how it can improve the lives of individuals who’ve had concussions in the past, individuals who’ve had other neurologic disorders.

And so yeah, that’s what interests me the most. I think that’s just fascinating. I think there’s so much more for us to know and I think there’s so much more for us to kind of research, understand. And this information needs to also get out to the public, so that we can really all improve our health by just improving and prioritizing our sleep.

Sree Roy:

I love that you’re working on research in that area. Where can we improve for our sleep health equity?

Dr. Temitayo Oyegbile-Chidi:

So sleep health equity is something that we’re beginning to understand more and more about, and we’re doing a lot more research in this area. We’re finding that, it turns out that people of color in the US are disproportionately affected by poor sleep and sleep disorders, poor sleep health in general. It’s likely, it’s possible that it could be because individuals of color, especially those who have lower economic status, are more likely to have jobs that require shift work, overnight to graveyard shifts. And so they’re unable to get as good a sleep as they could. They are more likely to have jobs where you can’t necessarily work from home. There are lots of reasons why it’s possible that these individuals, people of color, have poor sleep health and more sleep disorders.

Prioritizing health is really important. And because of this, the National Sleep Foundation has released a position statement that outlines key strategic changes that are needed to achieve sleep health quality. I can go into them in a lot of detail, but suffice it to say there are specific areas to build or expand on in terms of really making sure there is evidence based, culturally sensitive sleep health resources in different areas, of different neighborhoods, so as to kind of provide equitable access to clinical sleep healthcare. And also one other mention that’s really important that is addressed in our position statement is making sure that sleep health equity is discussed across the full continuum of sleep healthcare delivery.

So those are a few of the things that we have addressed. Specifically, these three issues that I kind of really focused on, we really need funding in terms of getting that research going and kind of understanding a little bit more. We need to work on changing policies on a state level, on a federal level. And so these are some things that National Sleep Foundation is working on, and we need to really prioritize this so as to improve sleep health equity overall.

We know that our National Sleep Foundation is a leader in sleep health. And so continuing to focus on these kind of underserved and under-represented communities, making sure that they also have the opportunity to hear about excellent sleep health or what will help them have excellent sleep health is really important, and this is something that we are going to continue striving to achieve.

Sree Roy:

Great. What projects or initiatives is the National Sleep Foundation working on that you’d like to highlight?

Dr. Temitayo Oyegbile-Chidi:

So the National Sleep Foundation is very proud to host our annual Drowsy Driving Prevention Week. Our campaign, it’s taking place November 6th through the 13th. So we’re very excited about this. This campaign, the Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, is one of our longest running educational campaigns and it’s its 15th anniversary this year. This year, 2022, marks its 15th anniversary.

So let me just tell you a little bit about this specific week. So for Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, what we’re trying to do is really kind of connect the work that we do with sleep health, with safety. Safety is really key here. And so what we do during this annual campaign is that we really kind of focus on reaching out to the public and discussing the importance of having adequate sleep before driving, before getting on the road. And so our campaign theme this year is Sleep First Drive Alert.

I can say that one more time, Sleep First Drive Alert. And that’s really important, because we do know that drowsy driving is impaired driving, and it’s a risk to the public in general. And so we really want to make sure that every driver gets enough sleep, be it teenagers all the way to individuals in their 80s, 90s, and involved making sure you get an adequate sleep, so that when you get on the road you’re driving alert and able to drive safely.

The reality is that drowsy driving is really what we consider in NSF and in several different other groups, we consider drowsy driving the “4th D,” among drunk driving, drugged driving, distracted driving, and drowsy driving. And so all of these types of driving are impaired driving, really. And we know that you can’t be at your best if you’re driving with any of these four Ds. So what’s really important for National Sleep Foundation on our advocacy agenda is to make sure that we really publicize the importance of ensuring that drowsy driving is avoided as much as possible.

So we’re working with policy makers. We’re working with industry. We’re working with other advocacy groups to make sure that we really get this information out to the public and make sure that people are aware that this is not just a public health issue, but also a safety issue.

So once again, I should tell you our campaign theme is Sleep First Drive Alert, because we want to make sure that everyone gets their best select self. And so to learn more about this, you want to go to our website under the Best Select Self resource. Go to the nsf.org. Then from there, you can kind of learn steps that you can take every day, day-by-day, to improve your sleep and to see how improving your sleep can have a huge impact on your sleep health and health in general.

Sree Roy:

Great. You’ve won a Sleep Health Policy Advocacy Award from the National Sleep Foundation. What are some ways that other healthcare professionals advocate for better sleep?

Dr. Temitayo Oyegbile-Chidi:

So in this award, I would make sure that it focuses on ensuring that we’re able to educate the general public as well as healthcare professionals to advocate perhaps for sleep health. Keep in mind, nationally, there are a limited number of sleep physicians. And so what’s really important is to make sure that our primary care physicians, our pediatricians, our family, practice physicians, our internists, are able to make sure that when they’re speaking to their patients, they’re speaking to them about ensuring that they’re having good sleep health.

One thing I would focus on is making sure that we all get a sleep history or some kind of information about sleep health at every visit, so that we can make sure that our healthcare professionals have an opportunity to open up the discussion about sleep. “How are you sleeping? Do you sleep through the night? Do you take naps?” Things like that.

And it’s so important, we as physicians or healthcare professionals have always really focused on what we’re doing during the daytime, what illnesses do you notice during the daytime? But we haven’t really focused as much on what’s going on during sleep. And so if we can start to get everyone, all our providers, all our physicians, all our nurse practitioners, all our physician assistants, et cetera, asking about sleep, we would go a long way in getting this information out to the public.

Sree Roy:

Are there any social media handles, websites, anything like that you’d like to share for audience and members who want more information?

Dr. Temitayo Oyegbile-Chidi:

Sure. So you can follow the National Sleep Foundation on Twitter and Instagram with the handle, @sleepfoundation. And you can also follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn, under National Sleep Foundation. And our website is www.thensf.org. And there also, you can find sleep health tips and resources for everyone and anyone to get involved with. This would include kids and adults and elderly individuals. We want to make sure everyone is aware of all the options that there are to improve your sleep.

Sree Roy:

Well, thank you so much for chatting with us about sleep health today. You can find Sleep Review at sleepreviewmag.com. Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode.