By: Dr. Peter Dodzik – Managing Editor

The first week in April will mark the annual “National Sleep Awareness Week”, a time when sleep professionals and paraprofessionals usually begin to engage in a kind of introspection about the state of the field. Numerous milestones have certainly been reached in terms of diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy and insomnia. Treatment options are varied for many of these disorders. Patients now have options when choosing the treatment that is right for them and new products and services are offered at a pace that surpasses industries with more money and support.

However, many in the field feel that too little attention is paid to the importance of sleep in mainstream America. I can vividly recall reading in the New York times that 70% of Americans surveyed reported sleep problems such as nightmares and insomnia after the horrific events of 9/11, with some sources quoting rates even higher for children. Still, Americans seemed unwilling to include sleep among their priorities. Polls from leading insurance companies still show that baby boomers rank their financial state over their own mortality and the A m e r i c a n Council on Science and Health still does not rank “getting a good night’s sleep” among their 10 suggestions for “New Year’s Resolutions.” You will however, find “protecting your dental health” and “never use alternative treatments without consulting your doctor” on the 2001 edition.

With all of the recent literature demonstrating links between sleep disorders and mortality, it is a wonder more attention is not paid to sleep by most Americans. One possible reason is that we still wear our hard work as a badge of honor. Employees are socially and financially rewarded for their long hours as much as for their work quality, which ironically shows an inverse relationship. Many patients have told me that their bosses care only about how early they come in and not how late they stay and thus half of their efforts go unnoticed. I had a patient who sustained a severe closed-head injury and was ready to return to work after 6 months. She had devised a number of her own methods for improving her quality of work even with her limitations, but could not complete the day due to fatigue. I had recommended that the office let her nap on a cot during her lunch hour to combat her fatigue and they looked at me like I was crazy. They eventually let her go, but fortunately her next employer agreed and she has been there for 2 years as a model employee.

Some of the problems may also come from the limited media exposure. Christopher Reeves, Michael J. Fox and Charlton Heston have leant their time and names to the conditions that effect them and have gained exposure and resources to their causes. To date, no celebrities have publicly come out with apnea or narcolepsy, though I am sure there are many with the conditions.

Until we realign our occupational priorities or a major celebrity announces their sleep-related condition, it is up to all concerned with sleep and it’s effects to promote our cause. So, when you observe “National Sleep Awareness Week” next month, see this as an opportunity to share your observations and concerns with those around you – to raise others’ concern for the importance of sleep.