Everyone needs sleep, but its biological purpose remains a mystery. Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs, to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. Research shows that a chronic lack of sleep, or getting poor quality sleep increases the risk of disorders including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.
Health Guardians are using smartphone apps, bedside monitors, and wearable items (including bracelets, smart watches, and headbands) to informally collect and analyze data about their sleep. Smart technology can record sounds and movement during sleep, journal hours slept, and monitor heartbeat and respiration. Using a companion app, data from some devices can be synced to a smartphone or tablet or uploaded to a PC. Other apps and devices make white noise, produce light that stimulates melatonin production, and use gentle vibrations to help us sleep and wake. All this technology is used to help us learn about ourselves, and better manage our sleep.
Scientists continue to learn about the function and regulation of sleep. A key focus of research is to understand the risks involved with being chronically sleep deprived and the relationship between sleep and disease. People who are chronically sleep deprived are more likely to be overweight, have strokes and cardiovascular disease, infections, and certain types of cancer, than those who get enough sleep. Why? we don’t know, but we can leverage this observation. Sleep disturbances are common among people with age-related neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Many mysteries remain about the association between sleep and these health problems. Does the lack of sleep lead to certain disorders, or do certain diseases cause a lack of sleep? These, and many other questions about sleep, represent the frontier of sleep research.