Sleep apnea. Restless leg syndrome. Narcolepsy. Insomnia. These are the most common disorders that plague sleep. For some of us, we have trouble getting refreshing sleep, no matter how many sheep we count. As a veteran of several sleep studies, complete with the diagnosis of sleep apnea and restless leg, I’m very interested in what’s being done to figure out this problem. Sleep deprivation is a huge problem – it can lead to significant reductions in work productivity. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control:

“Cognitive impairment after approximately 18 hours awake is similar to that of someone with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05%. After about 24 hours awake, impairment is equivalent to a BAC of 0.10%, higher than the legal limit in all states.

Researchers at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine have written an excellent overview of many animal models of sleep disorders. Of course, it’s very important to perform human sleep studies – especially for patients who need a diagnosis for exactly why they can’t sleep through the night. But, we need to understand the basic mechanisms of sleep to develop more effective treatments and therapies.  According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, over 80 specific sleep disorders have been identified. In fact they’ve got a 300 page text book dedicated solely to these classifications. There are different types of breathing problems, circadian rhythm problems, movement problems, combinations of these, and many more.

Considering this variety of disorders under the umbrella of “sleep disorders,” it’s vitally important to know what causes each one. Narcolepsy research with dogs and mice has led to the discovery of how narcolepsy happens, which has led to new more effective therapies. Even fruit flies have been used as animal model for insomnia, complete with daytime sleep-deprivation drowsiness. English Bulldogs and obese Miniature Yucatan pigs are models for sleep apnea, as they exhibit the same interrupted breathing patterns during sleep as humans do. I’m sure Bulldog owners will be thrilled to know that therapies made possible with these dogs will also help them, too! And these are just a few of the animals making these important discoveries possible.

So, tonight when you’re trying to fall asleep, try counting all the rats, mice, dogs, pigs, monkeys, fruit flies, and other animals helping us learn how to ensure a good night’s sleep. Sweet dreams!!

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