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Arianna Huffington's Sleep Revolution

Sleep has a new and effective advocate

Anyone who has worked with the multifarious human consequences of sleep dysfunction can only be grateful to Arianna Huffington for her efforts to put sleep at the top of the public health agenda in the US. She has tirelessly spoken out about sleep problems, given talks about it to all kinds of groups, pushed legislation and funding efforts, made sleep issues a prominent part of the reporting done at the Huffington post and now has published a book entitled “The sleep revolution: Transforming your life one night at a time” (NY: Harmony Books 2016).

The Sleep Revolution is nicely divided into two major sections with Part 1 covering the public health dimensions of the current sleep crisis and the basics of sleep science and Part 2 surveying potential responses to the current sleep crisis. She does a competent job of documenting the public health consequences of sleep loss. If you think being drunk impairs your judgment and decision making processes, try going without sleep for a day! (but don’t drive when you make that experiment!) Sleep loss leads directly to car wrecks, truck driver collisions, plane, train and boat crashes, and on and on. Sleep loss in kids impairs their ability to learn; in old age it increases the risk for dementia and in middle age it leads to Type II diabetes, obesity and half a dozen other chronic illnesses.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that sleep plays a fundamental role in preserving health, government funding for sleep studies is shamefully low. NIH only rarely puts out calls for proposals on sleep and when it does the amounts of money involved are miniscule compared to the budgets lavished on other issues and diseases.

Sleep clearly needs not just one prominent advocate but many! Sleep is lucky to have Arianna Huffington as an advocate. In Part 2 of her book she surveys some of the evidence that the government and businesses are waking up (pun intended) to the problem of sleep. She discusses nap rooms in businesses, special bed packages in hotels, sports teams that now track sleep quality measures in their athletes, hospitals that are attempting to decrease noise levels in patient’s bedrooms and so on.

While all of the anecdotes Huffington discusses in Part 2 of her book are great I cannot agree that we are witnessing anything like a sleep revolution. Sleep is still not taken very seriously by the public. Sleep is still not a very hot topic within the biomedical and scientific communities. Physicians and scientists are generally ignorant concerning the basics of sleep science. And as I said above there is very little funding for sleep research. In my opinion dreams are integral to sleep science but dreams are virtually ignored by the scientific community and there is absolutely no funding for studies on dreams.

Why are dreams integral to sleep science? Because it may be that we sleep in order to dream. I realize that no other scientist agrees with me on that assessment but most would agree that dreams are not well understood and therefore deserve some serious study. Huffington has a chapter on dreams and recommends regular recording of your dreams. I think I would endorse that recommendation for most people (not for obsessives, depressives, some psychotic disorders and a few others)…and would also endorse Huffington’s book. Lets hope it becomes a bestseller and ultimately helps to focus America’s attention on its tremendous sleep debt.

More from Patrick McNamara Ph.D.
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