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For Immediate Release: Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Updated NIH Sleep Disorders Research Plan seeks to promote and protect sleep health

Plan charts course for future sleep and circadian research, identifies opportunities for collaboration

Building on scientific advances that link sleep problems to health and safety risks, the National Institutes of Health today released the 2011 NIH Sleep Disorders Research Plan. The plan identifies research opportunities to be pursued over the next three to five years in order to spur new approaches to the prevention and treatment of sleep disorders. Recommended research initiatives include looking at the connection between sleep and circadian systems (the body's natural 24-hour cycle), studying the influence of genetic and environmental factors that could influence a person's sleep health, and conducting more comparative effectiveness trials to improve treatments for sleep and circadian disorders.

"Sleep and circadian research have made huge strides during the last decade," said Susan B. Shurin, M.D., acting director of the NHLBI. "There are unprecedented opportunities for improved understanding of the physiology of sleep and the impact of disruption of sleep. We must continue to further advance the research, improve our understanding of mechanisms behind sleep and circadian disorders, and to apply innovative approaches to help move the science forward to improve health and prevent disease."

The plan expands upon previous and current research programs identified in the 1996 and 2003 plans. In addition it:

  • Highlights opportunities to foster a continued dialogue with research communities, which will help promote innovative approaches to scientific investigations.
  • Addresses training needs for investigators and encourages interdisciplinary collaboration to accelerate scientific discovery and bring therapies to the community more rapidly while improving strategies for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of sleep and circadian disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea.
  • Encourages a stronger emphasis on understanding the genetics behind sleep as well as other factors that contribute to sleep disorders and disturbances, such as lifestyle, age, and gender differences.

An estimated 50–70 million adults in the United States have chronic sleep or wakefulness disorders, and the percentage of adults who report averaging less than seven hours of sleep per night has increased by about one third since the 1980s. Sleep deficiency (insufficient sleep, poor quality sleep, or sleeping at the wrong biological time of day) and disorders are associated with a growing number of long-term health problems, including a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and other diseases. Drowsy driving, one of the most lethal consequences of inadequate sleep, has been responsible for an estimated 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries annually. In addition, research has shown that sleep disturbances can contribute to a person's risk of developing mental illnesses, particularly in adolescents. Sleep-related issues can affect a person's quality of life, and can contribute to a host of medical, social, and economic conditions.

Recent advances and findings, such as the connection between severe obstructive sleep apnea and an increased risk of stroke and elevated blood pressure, provide the foundation for new research and the development of improved treatments. The plan provides an opportunity for future research to continue to define the role of sleep as a fundamental requirement of daily life and learn why a wide range of health, performance, and safety problems emerge when sleep and circadian rhythms are disrupted.

"There is a significant opportunity to inform public health research, given the prevalence of sleep and circadian problems nationwide," said Michael J. Twery, Ph.D., director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research (NCSDR), a branch of the NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). "The goals outlined in the plan will help bring attention to important questions that still remain about the effects of sleep and circadian disturbances as well as the appropriate therapeutic approaches for them."

The 2011 NIH Sleep Disorders Research Plan was developed through an open process with staff from the NIH and public representatives on the Sleep Disorders Research Advisory Board, which is chaired by Charles Czeisler, Ph.D., M.D., chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. The public, patients, health care professionals, and researchers also provided input.

The NCSDR coordinated plan development with the following NIH Institutes: the NHLBI, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the Office of Research and Women's Health.

The NCSDR was established in 1993 as part of the NIH Revitalization Act, in which the center was mandated to conduct and support research, training, health information dissemination, and other activities with respect to a basic understanding of sleep and sleep disorders, including research on biological and circadian rhythms, chronobiology (or the study of biological rhythms), and other sleep-related topics. The NCSDR seeks to fulfill its goal of improving the health of Americans by serving four key functions: research, training, technology transfer, and coordination.

To view a complete copy of the 2011 NIH Sleep Disorders Research Plan, please visit: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/sleep/index.htm.

To arrange an interview with a spokesperson, please contact the NHLBI Communications Office at (301) 496-4236 or nhlbi_news@nhlbi.nih.gov.

Part of the National Institutes of Health, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) plans, conducts, and supports research related to the causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heart, blood vessel, lung, and blood diseases; and sleep disorders. The Institute also administers national health education campaigns on women and heart disease, healthy weight for children, and other topics. NHLBI press releases and other materials are available online at www.nhlbi.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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This page last reviewed on January 14, 2014

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