Striving for a better night’s sleep

March 14, 2022

BIO5 researchers are addressing sleep health and sleep-related diseases through their work at the bench and bedside.

Koala sleeping

Adults ideally need seven or more hours of sleep each night, but the Centers for Disease Control estimate that more than one-third of Americans aren’t getting enough. Poor sleep disproportionately affects Black adults, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, and as well as more than two-thirds of adolescents. 

Too little sleep, or sleep plagued by frequent waking, puts people at greater risk for developing obesity or addiction to nicotine or alcohol. It’s also associated with at least ten chronic health conditions including depression, asthma, diabetes, and cancer. 

Launched in 1998 by the National Science Foundation, the annual Sleep Awareness Week is a public education campaign that celebrates sleep health. The campaign encourages people to prioritize sleep to improve overall health and well-being.

Our researchers at the BIO5 Institute are simultaneously working to educate people about sleep health and to help them find ways to increase their ZZZs. 

Sairam Parthasarathy is the medical director of the Banner – University Medical Center Tucson Center for Sleep Disorders and director of the UArizona Health Sciences Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences

“Not only do we have a high burden of sleep disorders among people in the community that need to be cared for by people who are trained as academics, but we also see complex cases. At the Banner center, we have the capabilities to offer them unique diagnostic and therapy options,” he said. 

Parthasarathy founded the research center to meet the need for a place where researchers could better understand the basics of sleep and circadian rhythms. The center enables researchers to not only change light timing, but also light frequency (blue vs red light). They can also alter the intensity of the light, as well as the gas composition of the air, to simulate a number of different scenarios. 

Michael Grandner is the Director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona and the Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic at the Banner-University Medical Center. His research focuses on how sleep and sleep-related behaviors dramatically impact our health and lives. According to Dr. Grandner, getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night is as essential. 

“A lot of the social attitudes around not needing sleep are not biologically based. Many see sleep as unproductive time…and there is nothing worse than unproductive time in our society,” said Dr. Grander. “However, quality sleep is as crucial to supporting life as eating food, breathing air, and drinking water.”

The physician-scientist is committed to improving quality of sleep for a wide range of patients with sleep disorders including CEOs, athletes, cancer survivors, and those in the military. Grandner specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI), which consists of a set of tools and approaches for treating insomnia without the use of medications. More than two decades of research studies have demonstrated that CBTI is safe and as effective, if not more so, than a traditional prescription sleeping pill. 

For those without a clinically-diagnosed sleep disorder, Grandner shared three tips for better sleep on the BIO5 Science Talks podcast

  1. Get up at the same time every morning, and quickly seek movement and light 
  2. Budget in time to wind down before hitting the sheets
  3. If you wake and can’t get back to sleep, get out of bed

Fiona Bailey is a professor of physiology and speech/language and hearing. She studies how sleep and sleep-related behaviors impact various health outcomes, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, brain function, mental health, and longevity. 

Breathing difficulties, high blood pressure, and sleep problems often go together. Dr. Bailey has found that by training the muscles involved in breathing, patients experience reduced blood pressure, strong respiratory muscles, and improved sleep. She was recently awarded a five-year, $3.4M grant to launch a Phase II clinical trial to assess the long-term effectiveness of this unique respiratory training protocol known as “inspiratory muscle training” in adults with obstructive sleep apnea.

A team of researchers including BIO5 members Zhao Chen, department chair of epidemiology and biostatistics in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health; Cynthia Thomson, Director of the Canyon Ranch Center for Prevention and Health Promotion; and Jennifer Stern, assistant professor of medicine; sought to better understand the relationship between sleep and hunger. They have found that short sleep was associated with decreased leptin (the ‘fullness’ hormone), increased food consumption, and poor nutritional choices.

Together with interdisciplinary colleagues across the university, these BIO5 researchers are working towards promoting better sleep health and understanding the health and lifestyle consequences related to sleep deprivation.