Sleep and Circadian Disorders Public Education

In an address at the National Institutes of Health, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona singled out the public’s understanding of sleep disorders, and the toll they take, as “health literacy in our society at its worst.” The Surgeon General noted that the people who most need to know about sleep problems “are the ones most distant from it, and [do not] connect sleep problems with the multitude of issues, including many preventable diseases, which give us a huge disease burden.” To further emphasize this issue, a recent report from the Institute of Medicine entitled “Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem”, stated “There is a compelling unmet need for health care providers, health profession students and the general public to increase their knowledge concerning the importance of good quality sleep and sleep health.”

In order to help address this need, the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders faculty has a ongoing collaboration with the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine to develop a sleep and health education program to enhance the education of medical students, post-graduate medical trainees, practicing physicians, and the general public on sleep health, sleep science, and sleep medicine.

The aim of this web-based educational program is to increase both local and national awareness of these issues. Brigham and Women’s Hospital division faculty member, Stuart F. Quan, MD, serves as the editor-in-chief of the program with participation of other division faculty members as well as sleep faculty from other Harvard teaching institutions. The website is located at and has media rich interactive web modules on the importance of Healthy Sleep, consequences of Insufficient Sleep, and the diagnosis and treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Narcolepsy. Additional material and updates are made continuously.

Another major public education activity is the The Sleep Matters Initiative (SMI). Led by clinicians and researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, the SMI provides healthy sleep education and sleep disorders screening services to institutions and businesses through its innovative Sleep Health Wellness Program and online course on sleep health. To date, the SMI has helped more than 25,000 police, firefighters, healthcare providers, laborers, college students and even astronauts. Validating impactful research has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, Science, and Nature.

In addition, division faculty are frequently asked to write articles and give opinions on sleep-related issues in the lay media. The following are some recent examples:

“Advice about Sleep Deficiency in Midlife,” Orfeu Buxton, Ph.D., New York Times, September 25, 2013 and October 2, 2013.

“More Sleep Equals Less Weight -- An Opportunity Lost?” Stuart F. Quan, M.D., Huffington Post, May 25, 2012.

“Circadian rhythms are powerful, but people can change their sleep-wake cycles,” Comments by Charles Czeisler, M.D., Ph.D., Washington Post, June 29, 2010.

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