New innovations are helping to define and put sleep challenges to rest
Sleep – like food, water and air – is essential for survival and good health. We have known about the importance of sleep for a long time, and have also become aware of what happens when we don’t receive optimal sleep: reduced alertness, impaired judgment, stress, anxiety, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease . The list goes on and on, and it doesn’t seem like it is stopping any time soon. Just recently, we learned that a lack of sleep can affect testosterone levels, leading to a decrease in sex drive .
Knowing these potential consequences, it is critical that we optimize our sleep health by prioritizing getting enough sleep each night. Too often though, we choose other aspects of our lifestyles – work, family, exercise, friends – over sleep and sleep health ends up getting pushed down our list of priorities. According to a recent survey, eight in 10 adults worldwide said they were interested in improving the quality of their sleep, but a majority (60 percent) had yet to seek medical help .
As a sleep clinician, this lack of prioritizing sleep (especially when the health implications are so well known) can be frustrating and alarming. But, as an everyday, busy human being, I get it – “see a sleep specialist” or “get 7-8 hours of sleep” don’t often top most people’s to-do lists. Fortunately, today, there are clinically-validated tools and solutions readily available to consumers that can help make it easier to address sleep problems and improve sleep efficiency.
There are several factors that come into play when figuring out what is causing a bad night’s sleep. For many, it is, in fact, a matter of prioritization – some choose to scroll through social media long past their desired bedtime or spend long nights at work; but for others, sleep troubles can stem from issues related to falling asleep, waking up frequently, staying asleep or other chronic problems. More than 7 out of 10 people worldwide experience at least one condition that impacts sleep, including insomnia, snoring, shift work sleep disorder, chronic pain, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy. The list of things that can affect your sleep is long and understanding which factor or condition is preventing you from getting better sleep can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t know where to start.
The first place most people turn to for answers is online. While some questions may be answered online, it isn’t enough to just know you’re not getting the rest you need, google your condition and think you found the answer to getting better sleep. It’s critical to fully understand why you aren’t getting optimal sleep so that way you can truly address the problem. That’s one of the primary reasons my team at Philips collaborated with sleep physicians and researchers to develop SmartSleep Analyzer, a clinically-validated online questionnaire that can help people to quickly define the ‘why’ behind their sleep struggles. The online triage tool uses a sophisticated algorithm to help people identify their sleep challenge(s) – everything from insomnia to sleep apnea – and provides personalized feedback and educational information to addresses their specific sleep needs.
Using the SmartSleep Analyzer, people can take steps to better understand their sleep challenges and identify the proper educational resources to help them to pursue potential solutions to address them. For instance, people who take advantage of SmartSleep Analyzer to find out that their sleep problem stems from snoring, can receive helpful information on how to address this problem, including the suggested use of a wearable device designed to reduce snoring by keeping users off their backs. If the problem is an inability to find seven hours to spend in bed from time to time, SmartSleep Analyzer can direct people to a solution like the Deep Sleep Headband that has been reported by first-hand users to decrease daytime sleepiness and increase daytime energy, even when optimal sleep isn’t reached.
The same goes for people who identify that they have trouble falling or staying asleep. With the guidance of the SmartSleep Analyzer, people can see that solutions like a sleep and wake-up light or programs that utilize cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) to help retrain sleep habits may be beneficial. Regardless of the ‘why,’ having solutions that can address people’s sleep needs from identification to taking action toward improvement, will help people rest easier and live better.
Dr. David White, Chief Medical Officer with Philips Sleep & Respiratory Care, serves as a Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School and President of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. His principle research interest has been the pathophysiology of disorders of breathing during sleep about which he has published over 200 original papers.