Sleep remains one of the most mysterious, unsolved biological necessities for life as we know it. Why to we need to sleep? Why is sleeping so inextricably connected with our well being and health? New sleep research is revealing a wide range of new insights into how the quality of sleep can affect everything from heart disease to brain function and beyond.
Sleep Research Investigates Whether Improving Sleep Reduces Heart Disease Risk In Caregivers
Endowed chair, Meredeth Rowe (RN, PhD, FGSA, FAAN), is leading a $1.9-million, four year study at the University of South Florida College of Nursing on “Improving Dementia Caregiver Sleep and the Effect on Heart Disease Biomarkers.” This research is funded by National Institute on Aging (NIA).
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, some 15 million Americans have provided an estimated 17.5 billion hours of non-remunerated care to patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in 2012.
It is reported that individuals involved with the daily activities of Alzheimer’s patients such as caregivers, unpaid family members or friends, may have a problem with sleep loss due to constant demands of their caregiving. This College of Nursing study will examine the relationship between caregiver sleep and heart disease. According to Rowe, “Caregiving and lack of sleep each separately increase the risk of heart disease. We want to discover whether improving sleep in caregivers lowers that risk.”
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2006 put out a report entitled “Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem,” that indicates that the cumulative effects of sleep loss and sleep disorders has been linked with a number of negative health issues such as increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke.
Rowe’s research focuses on developing an easy-to-use treatment that will improve caregivers’ sleep to enhance their overall health and decrease the nursing home placement of patients with Alzheimer’s. They have developed an integrated nighttime monitoring system that has the ability to track bed occupancy and movements around the homes of those that have dementia. The idea is to allow the caregiver to rest during the night.
The CareAlertTM system is a novel night monitoring system that was designed by Rowe and Caregiver Watch, LLC, that provides alerts to caregivers when a patient leaves their bed and wanders around the house. This allows the caregiver to rest easier at night as well as improve the safety of patients with dementia. The effectiveness of this system was published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association (2009). They reported that the CareAlertTM system decreased nighttime injuries as well as unattended home exits by 85 percent over the period of one year.
According to Cindy L. Munro, PhD, RN, ANP-BC, FAAN, professor and associate dean for research and innovation at the USF College of Nursing, “Dr. Rowe’s research seeks not only to improve caregiver sleep, but also to better understand the relationships between sleep and changes in heart health.”
Rowe’s current research involves using a combined therapy using the CareAlertTM system along with cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia. She will evaluate whether these combined interventions will improve sleep for caregivers who work with Alzheimer’s patients. This study is being conducted in the USF College of Nursing Caregiving Laboratory. There will be 100 participants who will receive the CareAlertTM system and one of two sleep therapies assigned at random.
A recent experiment done on mice at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center suggests that mice who are kept awake with various distractions have greater difficulty in falling asleep than mice who had few to no distractions. This was true even when both groups were sleep-deprived.
According to Dr. Masashi Yanagisawa, professor of molecular genetics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher at the university, “This study supports the idea that subjective sleepiness is influenced by the quality of experiences right before bedtime. Are you reluctantly awake or excited to be awake?”
The mice used in the experiment were genetically identical and they were separated into three groups. One group of mice were allowed to sleep and wake with out any interference by investigators. The other two groups were sleep deprived by six hours. The second group of mice were kept awake by making changes to their cages such that the mice would spend time checking out the new items, therefore, distracting them. The third group was kept awake by lightly tapping their cages when they appeared to be falling asleep.
These researchers found that both the second and third groups which were sleep-deprived responded differently to falling asleep. The second group which was distracted by altering cage items stayed awake because they wanted to explore. However, the third group which had a light tap on their cage when they began to fall asleep went to sleep faster. These researchers were able to identify two new proteins associated with sleep responses.
According to Dr. Robert Greene, psychiatry professor at the university and a doctor at the Dallas VA Medical Center, “Two of the great mysteries in neuroscience are ‘Why do we sleep’ and ‘What is sleep’s function? Separating sleep need from wakefulness and identifying two different proteins involved in these steps represents a fundamental advance.”
Sleep research continues to reveal fascinating, new discoveries in how we can improve the quality of sleep, and how high-quality sleeping patterns can greatly improve health. Be sure to follow BioNews Texas’ section on sleep for the latest sleep research news.