Recent estimates suggest that 40-70 million Americans experience either chronic or intermittent sleep-related problems. Difficulties with sleep occur in both genders, all races, all socioeconomic groups, and increase with age. Untreated sleep disorders have a profound impact nationally in terms of reduced quality of life, lower productivity in school and workplace, increased morbidity and mortality, and the loss of life due to accidents associated with excessive sleepiness. Failure to acknowledge the importance of sleep and the adverse health effects of sleep deprivation has been attributed to the low level of awareness among health care professionals and the lay public. Medical schools typically offer less than 2-4 hours of formal undergraduate training in sleep medicine and virtually no programs designed for postgraduate development of skills in the diagnosis and management of sleep disorders. Additional surveys indicate that sleep problems are rarely diagnosed and that most health practitioners are unable to identify insomnia and narcolepsy in patients. These findings underscore the limited medical school training available on sleep and sleep disorders.
Sleep disorders cut across several medical specialties (e.g., neurology, psychiatry, internal medicine, pulmonary medicine, and otolaryngology, etc.), which complicates the development of effective treatment guidelines and research. Although most sleep disorders can be controlled with medical treatment, many patients are not being diagnosed or receiving state-of-the-art medical care. This may be because many people believe that no effective treatments exist and therefore do not seek medical help. Multidimensional research is clearly necessary to improve clinical practice and patient education. Therefore, the aim of this program is to improve the quality of medical education and to stimulate the development of patient and community education, high quality clinical research programs, and clinical practice focused on the control of sleep disorders.
With the concurrence of the NHLBI Sleep Disorders Research Advisory Board and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Advisory Council, the NHLBI National Center for Sleep Disorders Research announced the "Sleep Academic Award" program in 1996 to improve the quality of medical and community education directed at controlling sleep disorders. The full program consists of twenty Sleep Academic Award sites.