Statement from Dr. Brian H. Rowe: The importance of sleep research

Sleepless in Canada may not become the next blockbuster movie on your streaming platform; however, the topic does represent a growing health concern for Canadians, and an opportunity for impactful research investment. In addition to proper nutrition, regular exercise, and mitigation of other known health risks factors, sleep is a fundamental, albeit modifiable, contributor to a healthy lifestyle. We live in a society that seems to rarely shut-off and proper sleep hygiene is increasingly difficult to accomplish as we seldom take the time to fully disconnect. As the pandemic forced many of us to work from home, the lines between work and home life are increasingly blurred affecting the duration and quality of sleep we achieve. The cumulative stress, unpredictable future, personal sacrifices, and social isolation associated with the pandemic have given rise to increased sleep debt. The pandemic has further underscored the link between insufficient sleep and health inequities across the lifecycle where many communities in Canada are being disproportionately affected (e.g., Indigenous communities, gender groups, and racialized groups). Increasing economic and social issues have raised the specter of “sleep security”, where safe, non-violent, comfortable, quiet conditions that promote sleep quality and duration are not accessible for some. With roughly half of Canadian adults having trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, sleep disorders are a prominent health concern across Canada.

The need for adequate, restful, and high quality sleep is closely linked with the other areas of our Institute mandate: critical care, stroke, cardiovascular, respiratory or blood vessel sciences. For example, patients in intensive care settings may experience increased sleep deprivation due to noise and light, intrusive therapeutic procedures, discomfort and stress. Research suggests that those recovering from stroke can experience excessive sleepiness and fatigue, or that sleep-disordered breathing can affect the regulation of circadian rhythms. Insufficient sleep has been linked to a number of chronic health conditions and premature death, including cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, infection/sepsis, and cancers. Sleep is known to play an important role in physical and cognitive performance. Sleep loss and sleep-related disorders have been linked to an increased number of vehicular collisions, industrial injuries, medical errors, decreased performance in school, work presenteeism and loss of work productivity. Poor sleep can have detrimental impacts across the lifecycle; inadequate sleep among children and adolescents may trigger irreversible long-term health consequences and in aging populations, changing sleep patterns can exacerbate existing chronic conditions, contribute to cognitive decline and dementia, increased risk of falls, and affect normal day-to-day functioning. Finally, interventions to improve sleep are common; however, evidence of their effectiveness is often lacking and Canadians need our scientific assistance separating truth from fiction.

With March 19th marking World Sleep Day 2021, the slogan of “Regular Sleep, Healthy Future” focuses on the importance of sleep for achieving an optimal quality of life and for improving our overall health.

Since its inception, CIHR has invested more than $234M on sleep research. The 2020 annual economic impact in Canada was estimated to be $21.9 billion representing 1.38% of Canada's gross domestic product (GDP).  In response to the increasing demand sleep issues can place on our daily lives, CIHR-ICRH is exploring synergies to build quality opportunities for the sleep research community. For example, nine sleep projects were funded for $3.4M in the 2020 medical countermeasures grant opportunities related to COVID-19. In addition, our Institute continues to strengthen our relationship with the Canadian Sleep Society (CSS). In 2019 both CSS and ICRH achieved major milestones; however, the pandemic of 2020-21 has put much progress within the research ecosystem on pause.

Together, our organizations awarded the inaugural CIHR-ICRH/CSS Distinguished Lecturer Award in Sleep Sciences in recognition of an individual's outstanding contribution to the advancement of sleep sciences in Canada. In collaboration with a variety of stakeholders in the sleep field, CIHR-ICRH proudly sponsored a successful, inclusive and innovative Trainee Research Day and the Sleep Expo at World Sleep in September 2019. Through our continued partnership with CSS we have launched the call for nominations for the 2021 CIHR-ICRH/CSS Distinguished Lecturer Award in Sleep Sciences and are working together to develop the capacity development workshop to take place at their national virtual meeting planned for October 28-30, 2021. These and other capacity development events directly align with the current ICRH and new CIHR strategic priorities.

We would like to thank all of the patients, caregivers, researchers, health care providers and trainees whose contributions have advanced sleep science. These partners help CIHR and ICRH address major scientific questions and build upon our previous discoveries in the field of sleep research. It is through mutual investments and quality collaborations that we will improve the sleep and well-being of Canadians and those beyond our borders.

Sleep and stay well!


Dr. Brian H. Rowe
Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health
Professor, University of Alberta

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