The new 2011 NIH Sleep Disorders Research Plan builds on scientific advances that link sleep problems to health and safety risks and identifies research opportunities over the next three to five years to spur new approaches for preventing and treating sleep disorders. Recommendations 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 on a person's sleep health, and conducting more comparative effectiveness trials to improve treatments.
"Sleep and circadian research have made huge strides during the last decade," said NHLBI Acting Director Susan B. Shurin, M.D. "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 apply innovative approaches to help move the science forward to improve health and prevent disease."
Chronic sleep or wakefulness disorders affect an estimated 50-70 million adults in the United States, 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 disorders and deficiency (insufficient sleep, poor quality sleep, or sleeping at the wrong biological time of day) are associated with a growing number of long-term health problems, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity. Drowsy driving has been responsible for an estimated 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries annually.
The updated 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., of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Numerous external ad hoc consultant volunteers led by James Walsh, Ph.D., of St. Luke's Hospital, and members of the advisory board, representatives of professional and patient advocacy organizations, and other individuals in the community also provided input.
The NHLBI's National Center on Sleep Disorders Research coordinated plan development with institutes and offices across the NIH, including 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.