A report released by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies on the status of academic sleep research and sleep medicine in the United States outlines how sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are having damaging effects on the health and performance of tens of millions of Americans. The report, titled “Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem,” also finds that sleep problems are having a harmful effect on the nation’s productivity, health care, and public safety.
The report confirms links between sleep deprivation and sleep disorders to a wide range of health consequences, such as “an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.” Despite such huge societal consequences and costs, the IOM finds that the cumulative effects of sleep loss and sleep disorders are “under-recognized” and “awareness among the general public and health care professionals is low given the magnitude of the burden.”
The report includes recommendations to improve awareness and strengthen the field of sleep medicine including the following:
  • Increasing public awareness about the importance of sleep and about sleep disorders through well-coordinated multimedia education and awareness campaigns starting with educators and school-aged children through graduate education for those entering health professions.
  • Substantially upgrading access to medical services to prevent and manage sleep disorders by improving diagnostic and therapeutic technologies, especially portable technologies.
  • Strengthening sleep research by prioritizing the training of more sleep researchers, by establishing interdisciplinary sleep programs in all academic health centers, and by establishing a national clinical network among sleep medicine research centers across the country.
  • Developing federally supported surveillance and monitoring systems to track the public health burden of sleep loss and sleep disorders in the population.
  • With the recommendations in place, the next step is for those involved in sleep medicine to take action by moving forward to improve sleep well-being. “It is now up to the sleep community to create strategic partnerships and redouble its efforts to carry these findings forward and to translate them into better sleep health for patients, workers, and the population at large,” said Barbara A. Phillips, MD, MSPH, chairman of the board of directors of the National Sleep Foundation.