The Health Factor
You Shouldn’t Underestimate
By Gina Dewink

There’s an international collaboration of sleep experts working toward informing, educating and aligning research in the field of sleep medicine. With more than 88 countries having participated in the past, it’s a pretty big deal…and it all started in Rochester.
Before you assume it’s an effort of Mayo Clinic or Olmsted Medical Center, know that—though specialists from both hospitals attend this congress—it is organized by a small but mighty nonprofit called World Sleep Society, located right in our community. If you haven’t heard of the organization, don’t be surprised. The organization’s mission to advance sleep health worldwide means members must be established in the sleep health community to which they belong. But one day per year, the public is invited to participate—on World Sleep Day.


World Sleep Day is a global awareness day in March. In 2020, it will occur on Friday, March 13. In years past, #WorldSleepDay has been the top trend of the day on social media in several countries. But why all the fanfare about the mundane activity of sleeping?

“There are close to 100 disorders of sleep, but most can be modified or managed with the help of sleep specialists,” explains Dr. Birgit Högl, the head of the Sleep Disorders Clinic at Innsbruck Medical University and president of World Sleep Society. “Though most sleep disorders are preventable or treatable, studies have shown that less than one-third of sufferers seek professional help. That means sleep problems threaten health and quality of life for up to 45% of the world’s population.”

World Sleep Society cites a myriad of both physical and mental ailments that have been connected to sleep—or usually, lack of quality sleep. Longer-term effects are being studied, but poor-quality sleep or sleep deprivation have been associated with significant health problems such as obesity, diabetes, weakened immune systems and possibly some cancers and Alzheimer’s disease. Not getting enough quality sleep negatively impacts your cognitive function, mood, reaction time, learning and memory.

World Sleep Day is designed to raise awareness of sleep as a human privilege that is often compromised by the habits of modern life. A few studies have noted:

• People with insomnia suffer from more symptoms of anxiety and depression than do people without.

• Sleep loss affects social abilities such as moral awareness, leadership ability and empathic accuracy.

• Just one night of bad sleep can negatively affect attention span, memory recall and learning the following day.

• Short sleep duration appears independently associated with weight gain, particularly in young age groups.


While we would all like to lessen the chances of chronic illnesses and obesity, what if an entire night’s sleep without interruptions isn’t possible? It may be time to make an appointment with your doctor. Work to overcome the stigma that sleep quality is less serious than other medical ailments. Devoting time to deal with a chronic sleep problem is an important form of self-care. And if you are dealing with insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring or one of the other 94 classified sleep disorders, connecting with others who share your disorder may help you find comfort and solutions. Find your community.

Share your passion for sleep and its vast importance. On World Sleep Day, the World Sleep Society will host a one-hour community event at Cascade Meadow with speakers from Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center and Rochester Athletic Club discussing sleep’s overarching impact on health.

In a culture that works 24/7, sleeping can seem like a low priority. Push yourself ahead and function your best by adding quality sleep to the top of your list.

World Sleep Day in Rochester
Friday, March 13, 2020
11 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Saint Mary’s University at Cascade Meadow Wetland and Environmental Science Center 2900 19th St. NW