The start of a new year is a time to reassess and undertake new directions. The current era of explosive growth in scientific and medical knowledge has included an improved understanding of sleep and its importance to health. The past few years has seen research showing a connection between poor sleep (not limited to sleep apnea) and health conditions ranging from early death to strokes and heart attacks to metabolic syndrome to cancer. Science is clarifying how important and why getting enough quality, refreshing sleep is vital to happy and healthy lives.
At the same time, public awareness is only now growing about the importance of sleep. Many factors contribute to poor sleep, and at least some of them can be addressed with wider recognition of sleep’s role for health. Sleep remains relatively low on most people’s priority list, and the result is that people do not address factors that harm sleep and are at least partially controllable: busy schedules, coping with stress, or weight gain. It is time for us to pay more attention to sleep and modify our lifestyles to recognize the value of sleep.
A provocative editorial about sleep health
The January 2014 issue of the medical journal SLEEP included an editorial from Dr. Daniel Buysse at the University of Pittsburgh, one of the world’s leaders in sleep medicine. Dr. Buysse proposed that the term “sleep health” should be adopted and measured, based on the growing evidence demonstrating the importance of sleep to health. In short, science is going beyond the obvious associations between sleep and functioning during the day to clarify the associations between sleep and health. His compelling argument frames this in the broader context of the redefinition of health as the absence of disease to, instead, the causes, prevention, and care of illness. In the United States, he argues that health care reform and the development of Accountable Care Organizations may bring greater attention to lifestyle changes, and sleep should receive its share of that focus.
Measuring sleep health with SATED
Dr. Buysse highlights studies that have shown connections between health and the following dimensions of sleep that form the acronym SATED:
- Satisfaction (sleep quality)
- Alertness (attention and wakefulness during the day)
- Timing (regular sleep patterns or lifestyles that do not inhibit those patterns)
- Efficiency (remaining asleep for a high share of time spent in bed)
- Duration (time spent sleeping throughout a 24 hour period)
He proposes that the SATED acronym form the basis of brief questions to be used in patient care, enabling a positive approach to enhancing sleep health. Research tools can be developed to capture these characteristics and measure sleep health. This will enable broader, population-based research to evaluate sleep’s importance to our health in more detail. This will obviously complement traditional approaches that study specific sleep disorders like snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.
I encourage those with access to the medical journal SLEEP to read this editorial. All of us can pay more attention to our own sleep health, encourage others to do so, and hope for new directions in sleep research.