The Sleep Secret Experts Prioritize
(And why you should too)
The world’s leading sleep experts have hectic daily agendas, often directing a sleep center or university department while also conducting and publishing research and managing personal/family life. In a time when business leaders and even the President of the United States are proudly proclaiming they only sleep a few hours per night, we wanted to know what leading sleep experts are doing. Are they only sleeping four hours a night to get ahead?
World Sleep Society interviewed five internationally-renowned sleep experts who all understand that success does not have to come at the price of sleep deprivation. The real secret? Making time in a busy life for adequate sleep.
Dr. Parrino, Italy
“Sleep is a non-negotiable condition that warrants wellness and prevents diseases,” states Liborio Parrino, MD, an Associate Professor of Neurology at Parma University, Italy. “Unfortunately, sleep is generally considered a time-wasting duty by many.”
Dr. Parrino began his sleep career by studying the recovery of sleep in comatose patients. 35 years later, his current sleep research centers around the overlap between insomnia and sleep apnea syndrome. Dr. Parrino is industrious and successful. But does he make time for sleep? “In accordance with the recommended indications, I try to respect the range of 7–8 hours of sleep per night,” he relays. “No matter the content of my day, after 9:00pm, I start to slow down in order to welcome sleep in a relaxed and peaceful background.”
Dr. Parrino believes by making sleep a “trendy and attractive” activity, we can better our own health as well as the world’s. He explains, “When we sleep, we spend less energy, water and food — And that’s in addition to improving our personal health. Once we all accept that, perhaps people will start rushing to their beds every night to enjoy the reinvigorating and rejuvenating properties of a good night’s sleep.”
Dr. Samuels, Canada
Charles Samuels, MD, CCFP, DABSM is the Medical Director of the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance as well as a Clinical Assistant Professor at Cummings School of Medicine, University of Calgary. In addition, he is the current President of the Canadian Sleep Society. “The general public needs to know that sleep is important, has a purpose and we should all make it a priority,” Dr. Samuels declares. “I aim for an 8-hour window at night, usually from 11:00pm to 7:00am,” he says of his sleeping habits. “If I have to get up early, napping is a key part of my strategy. If I get 6 hours of sleep, I nap during the day for 15–20 minutes.”
But Dr. Samuels wasn’t always able to balance his schedule around sleep. During prolonged work hours as a rural physician, sleep debt impacted his behavior with his young family, his performance as a physician and almost cost him his life. “Two incidents cemented why sleep should be priority number one in my health,” Dr. Samuels relays. “First, while on-call, I rolled my car in the middle of winter while driving to the emergency room from my house at midnight. I was clearly not fit to drive, and I was very lucky. Another more dramatic incident occurred one summer night driving home from the emergency department around 2:00am. I drove by my house, continuing on a country road and ended up at the shore of a lake, having fallen asleep driving. I woke up scared to death. I had no idea where I was, and it took me an hour to find my house.”
After these incidences, Dr. Samuels began researching the science of sleep. He also learned how to organize his day and night around sleep. When following his routine, he has the energy to work, train and enjoy the weekends.
Dr. Barnes, Australia
“On an individual level,” begins Dr. Maree Barnes of the Institute for Breathing and Sleep, Austin Hospital in Melbourne, “sleep is essential to good physical, emotional and psychological health. On a societal level, inadequate or poor sleep is a significant financial cost to our community.” Sleep disorders cost the Australian economy more than $5.1 billion each year in healthcare and indirect costs. Reduction in life quality caused by sleep disorders in Australia has a further cost equivalent of $31.4 billion per year.
“Personally,” Dr. Barnes explains, “I try to average 8 hours sleep each night. There are some nights when this is not possible, so I sleep in when I can. I don’t nap during the day. I make this possible in two ways,” she continued. “Firstly, by making sure I have at least 8 hours reserved every night, and secondly, by ensuring my bedtime behaviors promote good sleep.” Dr. Barnes creates the right sleep environment by making sure the bedroom is dark, quiet and comfortable, avoiding caffeine, alcohol or exercise for at least one hour prior to bed, and leaving electronics out of the bedroom.
“When I fell into the field of sleep medicine, I was at home with three children under the age of 5 and expecting a fourth. Training and research provided me with the interest and challenge I needed, as well as insight into the importance of prioritizing sleep in our family. We must all remember that without adequate sleep, we are at risk of accidents on the road, at work and in the home, as well as cardiovascular and metabolic illnesses.”
Dr. Kushida, United States
When Clete A. Kushida, M.D., Ph.D. was a freshman in college at Stanford, he saw an advertisement in The Stanford Daily (a student newspaper) that said, “Are you interested in sleep?” It turned out to be a recruiting session for students interested in being research sleep technologists for academic credit. Dr. Kushida explains, “I ended up staying up during the night to monitor the polysomnograms of research participants whom had narcolepsy. This piqued my interest in sleep disorders and I subsequently enrolled in Dr. William Dement’s “Sleep and Dreams” undergraduate course.” Dr. Dement encouraged Dr. Kushida’s interest in the scientific study of sleep, leading Kushida to follow his footsteps at the University of Chicago for medical and graduate school to pursue further training in sleep medicine and research.
Currently, Dr. Kushida is researching treatment effectiveness for patients with obstructive sleep apnea, as well as new therapies for sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy. “I average 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night,” Dr. Kushida states. “I do this by consistently setting a standard sleep routine, and going to bed and waking up about the same time. Sleep is so important — not only for health, but also for maintaining optimal alertness in job performance, particularly in occupations where public safety is at risk,” he says.
Dr. Morsy, Egypt
“When I was starting a pulmonology career eleven years ago,” begins Dr. Nesreen Elsayed Morsy, the Deputy Chairman of the Board and Council Secretary of Mansoura University Sleep Center (MUSC) and Faculty of Medicine of Mansoura University in Egypt, “sleep medicine was a mysterious area to me. I was excited to explore it. Especially in Egypt, it was a new field in the medical practice.” Currently, Dr. Morsy is researching the relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and venous thromboembolic diseases (blood clots, veins and circulation). “Although daily I have a lot to do, I am eager to have 6 to 7 sleep hours for workdays, and increase it to 9 hours on weekends,” Dr. Morsy states. “I am careful to get enough continuous sleep in a suitable place.”
Dr. Morsy believes more individuals should be aware of how optimal sleep is important for the body’s health. “Our sleep period is a time of growth hormone release and body repair, essential for learning and memory,” she describes. “Sleep loss can impair immune response, increase hunger, elevate cardiovascular diseases mortality and impair neurocognitive performance. We must all place sleep at the highest of importance.”
The professionals highlighted above represent the many leaders belonging to World Sleep Society’s membership, committed to advancing sleep medicine and research worldwide. Sleep is one of the three pillars of good health, along with a balanced diet and regular exercise. To learn more about World Sleep Society and its biennial sleep congress, visit worldsleepsociety.org. To follow the international awareness day to celebrate healthy sleep and its importance, learn more at worldsleepday.org. #WorldSleepDay