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We spend a third of our lives sleeping. But for a large percentage of the adult population, sleep disturbances are common. Some 15-18% of adults complain of insomnia, and an additional 4-5% complain of sleeping "too much." Sleep apnea, which is characterized by hundreds of episodes of breathing cessation during sleep, affects 4-5% of men and 2% of women aged 35 to 60.
Technion President Professor Peretz Lavie is a pioneering sleep researcher whose contributions helped establish global sleep research and sleep medicine. His influence on the field and on the quality of life for people in Israel and around the world has been profound.
The following sections summarize Pres. Lavie's key findings. Please watch the videos for more information:
The 'Sleep Gate' shows that people have very specific optimal times for going to sleep. This narrow window, during which the brain can easily make the wake-to-sleep transition, is different for each individual. And while the Sleep Gate is crucial to a good night’s sleep, most of us don’t obey it.
Interestingly, our most alert time of the day occurs for the two hours just prior to the Sleep Gate, a period Pres. Lavie terms the “Forbidden Zone for Sleep.”
"When we first made this finding, everyone rightly questioned the logic of it," says Pres. Lavie. Since then many have confirmed Pres. Lavie’s observation. A recent theory explains that this maximum alertness occurs in order to ensure a consolidated sleep period.
Is it good to suppress memories of traumatic events, even to the point of suppressing dreams of these memories? The answer will surprise you.
Soldiers suffering from trauma and Holocaust survivors suffering from their memories tend to dream repeatedly about their horrible experiences. Counter to prevailing ideas, Pres. Lavie found that suppressing such dreams is advantageous to readjusting to life after the trauma.
“We investigated two groups of Holocaust survivors. One was a well-adjusted group and the other was not,” he explains. “It turned out that those who were well-adjusted suppressed their dreams.”
When woken during REM or dream sleep, these people said they were not dreaming. Even when they did dream, their dreams were devoid of emotions.
This finding surprised the psychiatric world and was understandably not well-received. However, studies on survivors of traumatic events such as 9/11 and even car accidents, bore out the original findings.
Pres. Lavie was among the advance guard of scientists who warned us about the dangers of sleep apnea. He and colleagues at Itamar Medical Ltd. and SLP Ltd. in Israel have been marrying technology to science and developing devices that are changing the way diagnostic sleep studies are conducted.
Take the 'WatchPat,' for example. This is a novel FDA-approved device that identifies breathing cessations during sleep as well as arousals from sleep and the onset and duration of REM sleep by tracking changes in the blood flow through the finger. This device simplifies the diagnosis of sleep apnea, and can be done in the patient’s home. More than 100,000 sleep studies have been conducted with the Watch PAT in the US so far.
The 'Sleep Mustache' is a simple device that a patient tapes on his upper lip before going to sleep. Outfitted with smart sensors, the 'mustache' senses air flow and detects the cessation of breathing associated with sleep apnea. If the number of cessations are above a specified limit, the red flag goes up and the patient is alerted to seek help.
Men aged 20 to 29 with severe sleep apnea have 10 times the risk of dying from heart related ailments than their non sleep apnea peers in the general population, and a much higher risk than older men with sleep apnea.
Pres. Lavie's study also showed that men aged 30 to 39 have three times the risk of dying, while those in their forties have twice the risk. But those aged 50 or older don't have a higher risk of dying than the same age group in the general population.
"We were surprised to find a sharp decline in the risk of dying after age 50," says Pres. Lavie. "Older patients have more risk factors, especially cardiac ones, so we expected relative mortality to increase with age. The fact that they don’t suggests that patients with sleep apnea develop a mechanism, as yet unknown, that protects their cardiovascular system." Collaborating with Dr. Lena Lavie, his wife, who is a cell biologist, they demonstrated that sleep apnea is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis, or blocking of the arteries. They also demonstrated that proper treatment of the apneas can abort this process.
Are students underperforming in school because of early morning start times? 'Zero Hour' says yes, and educators are paying attention.
Israel had at one time instituted “Zero Hour” for the start of the school day. This meant that instead of starting their day at 8 a.m. — the standard hour for opening offices and stores in Israel — children started at 7 a.m., often having to wake as early as 5:30 a.m.
Sleep plays a vital role in learning, memory and maturation, says Pres. Lavie. In fact, studies show a close link between academic achievement and the hour at which students awake. Armed with this information, Pres. Lavie and his colleagues began a successful national campaign to abolish “Zero Hour” for elementary and middle school students. Since then, U.S. school districts in Minnesota and Rhode Island have also looked into moving up school openings.
No one should take a good night’s sleep for granted, warns Pres. Lavie. Sleep has to be respected and sleep hygiene is crucial. Here are some suggestions:
1. Do not smoke, exercise or eat heavy meals before going to bed.
2. Keep your sleep/wake schedule constant.
3. Create a good sleep environment. Shade out morning sun and shut off ticking clocks.
A fifth-generation Israeli, President Lavie received his formal training in sleep research and sleep medicine at American universities. In 1975 he joined the Faculty of Medicine at the Technion. That same year, he founded the Technion Sleep Research Laboratory and the Center for Sleep Medicine, long before sleep medicine became a recognized field. He served as dean of the Faculty of Medicine, holds the André Ballard Chair in Biological Psychiatry, and has served as the Technion’s Vice President for Resource Development and External Relations. At the beginning of the 2009-10 academic year, he became the Technion President.
Pres. Lavie has published more than 340 scientific articles and eight books. “The Enchanted World of Sleep,” published by Yale University Press in 1996, has been translated into 15 languages. “Restless Nights: Understanding Snoring and Sleep Apnea, was also published by Yale University Press in 2003 and won the educational award of the Brigham and Women's hospital in Boston.
His work has won him many prizes, including the Alkales Prize awarded by Keren Kayemet L’Israel, the University of Pisa Sleep Award to Best Sleep Researcher in Europe, and the American Society of Sleep Research Prize for Innovative Research and the prestigious Israel EMET prize for medicine.
For Better Sex, Sleep More
Male patients who suffer from sleep apnea -- the inability to breathe properly during sleep -- produce lower levels of testosterone, resulting in decreased libido and sexual activity, according to Pres. Lavie.
Although previous studies indicated that male sleep apnea patients had reported decreased libidos, researchers were unable to establish a scientific link. The current study, reported in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that nearly half the subjects who suffered from severe sleep apnea also secreted abnormally low levels of testosterone throughout the night.
The research was conducted in the Lloyd Rigler Laboratory for Sleep Apnea Research at the Technion Faculty of Medicine.
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