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Blog Feature

By: AAST Editor on May 10th, 2018

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A Spotlight on the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project

In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine came together to establish the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project. The project is a subgroup of Healthy People 2020, a federal interagency project wherein that, every 10 years identifies health priorities and creates work groups to address those priorities.

For the past five years, the CDC, AASM and the Sleep Research Society have been working on this project to increase public knowledge about sleep, the treatment of sleep disorders, and how sleep can improve health, productivity, wellness, quality of life and safety.

The project, which ends in June, is aimed at both clinicians and the public, but the overall goal is to improve public health. Elise Maher, RPSGT, has been involved in the project as the AAST representative since its inception. She works on the public communication work group, one of the four groups within the project. The others include the strategic planning work group, the provider education work group, and the surveillance and epidemiology work group.

“The first thing that I did in my role was to participate in the Sleep Duration Consensus Conference, which was a large research project to do a meta-analysis of research on sleep duration and health and determine what is the minimum amount of sleep adults should be getting,” Maher says. “Setting the line in the sand for the minimum amount of sleep for health seems like something that should have been done a long time ago, and yet it really was never defined. Seven hours was the amount of sleep they defined as minimum. We say now seven and up is what is recommended for adults.”

It was important to set this benchmark for sleep, Maher says, so that different research projects could be aligned against it. “The CDC can take that info and look at large populations and say ‘In this population, only 36 percent are getting seven hours of sleep,’ and then city planners can take that information and use it to try to get funding for targeted programs,” she says.

The objective of Maher’s group is to improve public awareness of the three objectives defined for the project: 1) increase the proportion of people with symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea that get evaluated; 2) reduce vehicular crashes due to drowsy driving; and 3) increase the number of teens and adults who get sufficient sleep.

“What my group focuses on is crafting messages and campaigns to help get the word out. We have been sending about two targeted messages a year,” Maher says. “It’s a multifaceted campaign. We create newsletters, we do Twitter chats, reddit group chats; there’s a marketing firm in the work group. We enlist the help of social media influencers, particularly teen bloggers to try to reach teens. We have created tool kits that can be used in high schools. One of the most popular tools created is the Bedtime Calculator. You put in what time you need to get up, and it tells you what time you need to go to bed.”

Ultimately, Maher says, the biggest challenge the project faces is that it’s trying to change people’s behavior. In order to succeed, the project tries to attack the problem at every angle, which is why the website, http://sleepeducation.org/healthysleep/about-the-national-healthy-sleep-awareness-project/, is aimed at everyone.

 “It’s for the public; it’s for teachers; it’s for clinicians,” Maher says. “There is a section for health providers. For sleep technologists, the things that would be most helpful would be some of the infographics that can be posted in the sleep center or in the sleep clinic. Things that can be printed out for health fairs. Information that can be used in presentation aimed to the public. Screening tools. There’s a lot there that can be used as is or adapted.”