THE BLOG

The Future of Sleep

01/26/2017 09:48pm ET | Updated January 27, 2018
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By Brandon R. Peters, MD

When considering the means to optimize well-being and function, there must be a prominent place reserved for sleep. Along with diet and exercise, it is a pillar of health, deserving both a daily commitment and unwavering respect. Though often slighted, sleep medicine has been a growth industry for decades, and its future holds both promise and opportunity.

Sleep may be one of the most important things that you do on a daily basis. It is the means by which our brains self-cleanse and remove metabolic waste products. Memory is consolidated. Problem solving occurs as new associations and connections are made within the brain. Hormones affecting growth and energy use are regulated. The body's tissues are repaired. Sleep is the balm to the ravages of time and it is neglected to our peril.

Time and again, research demonstrates the far-reaching effects of poor sleep and untreated sleep disorders. While profit-driven advice, potions, devices, and interventions seem limitless, there is a foundation to sleep medicine rooted in science. The future of sleep depends on rediscovering natural abilities through education with a considerable assist from well-utilized technology.

It is free to sleep well. It might not seem that way sometimes. Expensive mattresses, sleeping pills, specialized lighting, and innumerable products are sold to enhance your natural ability to sleep. Rarely has so much been spent on something that should occur without a thought. How much have you spent to enhance your appetite? With simple changes guided by education, we can reclaim our ability to sleep.

Education is perhaps one of the most helpful interventions to improve insomnia. Learning about the determinants of the sleep drive, how to reinforce circadian rhythms with light exposure, and ways to reduce anxiety and defuse the causes of difficulty sleeping can unravel insomnia quickly. It takes no medication. These elements can be incorporated into a cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) program.

We must shift away from our society's reliance on medications to aid sleep and others to stimulate wakefulness. There is growing evidence that prescription and over-the-counter sleep aid medications may contribute to the long-term development of dementia and other problems. These harms are irreversible; they must be avoided.

CBTI can help to relieve insomnia in 6 weeks, even when it has lasted decades. Medications can be tapered and stopped. Sleep can normalize. Psychologists and sleep medicine specialists may be helpful to guide you through these changes. Clinical resources may be inadequate and access may be limited, however.

Fortunately, leaders in sleep medicine like myself are creating extraordinary online programs and electronic resources that shall become the standards of care. My dream is to put this information into the hands of everyone who needs it. Insomnia is a problem that can be solved, a condition that has a cure.

My work continues. It is my life's ambition to educate others on the importance of sleep, to teach simple techniques to resolve insomnia. Public awareness, ease of testing, and access to therapy must be improved. Everyone who needs the assistance of a well-trained, board-certified sleep doctor should have access to one.

Treatments of sleep disorders like sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy will continue to advance through ongoing research and entrepreneurial efforts. The excitement of what is on the horizon is enough to disturb even the sleep of experts like me.

Join us as we work to make changes that improve sleep to help individuals, relationships, and society. Seek help on behalf of yourself or a loved one. Support our efforts to emphasize the vital role of sleep in health, safety, and productivity. Optimize your sleep, and ensure others have the opportunity to sleep well. We all benefit from a good night's sleep and the change can start now.

Brandon R. Peters, MD, is the creator of the Insomnia Solved program, the writer on sleep for Verywell.com, a neurology-trained sleep medicine specialist at Virginia Mason in Seattle, and consulting assistant professor at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. This Center is the birthplace of sleep medicine and includes research, clinical, and educational programs that have advanced the field and improved patient care for decades. To learn more, visit us at: sleep.stanford.edu.