How much do you know about sleep health? We’re digging deeper into how sleep relates to chronic illnesses in a new collaboration with the folks at the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), who are dedicated to improving health and well-being through sleep education.
To kick things off and share what NSF is all about, we sat down for a chat with board member Dr. Lisa Shives. Dr. Shives has extensive clinical experience treating sleep-related disorders like sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, and circadian rhythm disorders. See what she says below about the role of sleep in medicine and how sleep quality affects other health conditions.
Tell us a little bit about what you do and how you became interested in the study of sleep.
I became interested in sleep disorders because I was so sleep deprived as a medical student and resident. That experience made me take sleep very seriously and deepened my empathy for patients with sleep problems.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about sleep disorders?
I think the biggest misconception is that people think that people with “sleep problems” (usually meaning insomnia) are just anxiety-ridden or Type A personality types. — that they just need to relax and get into some good bedtime habits and then they would sleep fine. For people who do not have sleep/wake problems, sleep is the easiest thing in the world. They can’t understand how elusive a good night’s sleep can be.
You’ve managed clinical research studies that focus on sleep disorders, the effects of diet and exercise on sleep, and metabolic and cardiovascular abnormalities associated with sleep disorders. What can you tell us about how sleep disorders affect other conditions?
We have known for years that sleep apnea increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, but now we have evidence that short or poor sleep for any reason also increases the risk of diabetes and weight gain due to the metabolic disturbances that are caused by poor sleep.
For you, what’s the most interesting part of your work? The most interesting discovery that’s come out of your work?
For me, the most interesting recent discovery is that poor sleep or even sleeping at the wrong time deregulates metabolic and hormonal processes. It’s a major contributing factor to the chronic conditions that make up the bulk of the disease burden in modern society: cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.
What role is the study of sleep currently playing in medicine? And how do you see that evolving in the years to come?
I am happy to report that I see a growing awareness among my colleagues in the other fields that sleep is just as important as diet and exercise.
What’s your best piece of advice for patients living with sleep disorders alongside other chronic conditions?
Don’t accept that nothing can be done about your sleep problem. Just because it is common for people with your medical problem to have a sleep disorder does not mean that nothing can be done to improve your sleep/wake cycle and how you feel when you are awake.
Back in 2013, more than 5,000 PatientsLikeMe members participated in a survey about their sleeping habits, and we discovered that a bad night’s sleep is the norm for people with health conditions and that lack of sleep affects them far more than the general population. What are your thoughts on this?
As I said, just because sleep disorders are common among people with certain conditions, that does not mean that the sleep/wake cycle cannot be ameliorated. My advice is that patients should talk to their primary care physicians and sometimes seek out a trained sleep specialist to help them sleep better and feel more alive in the daytime.
Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.