What is your occupation?
I am a sleep specialist at the Sleep Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. I am also an Associate Professor of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. I diagnose and treat patients with sleep disorders.
Describe how you got into your professional occupation?
My training was in medicine, then in neurology. I became interested in the brain's control over hormone production and found that sleep controls our hormones. Many of our hormones are controlled by the sleep-wake cycle.
I did a two year fellowship in neuro-endocrinology and then was appointed Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
What do you do that most appeals to teens?
Many teens have sleep problems. Either too much sleep with difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, or too little sleep where they cannot fall asleep at night or wake up at night.
Fortunately, there are things that can be done to help teens with these problems.
What's hot news about your area of medicine and what is the latest news on your specialty?
The most interesting thing in sleep medicine at the moment is the finding of the cause of Narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy is a disorder that causes people to fall asleep at anytime during the day. It most often first occurs in teenagers. This disorder is quite rare but causes severe sleepiness during the day and also has other features, such as a tendency to fall to the ground with weakness whenever the person laughs or gets angry: - a symptom called cataplexy.
Recently the cause for Narcolepsy has been discovered. It is due to the loss of certain cells in the brain that release a chemical called hypocretin. People with Narcolepsy usually do not have hypocretin.
What is wrong with teens today (in relation to your occupation)? and what do you suggest should change?
Teens often do not get enough sleep. They tend to go to bed late and have to get up early for school the next day. As a result, they are sleepy because of being sleep-deprived. It is important for teens to know that when they become teenagers they often need more sleep than they did when they were younger.
Obviously, most teens think that because they are older they can go to bed much later. However, this only causes them to become sleep-deprived.
Getting an adequate amount of sleep at night, and keeping regular bedtimes and waketimes, are the most important thing that teens can do to prevent sleep problems.
Tell us about a strange/weird experience you have encountered while working. Anything funny? A story with a moral?
I once saw a teen who had trouble falling asleep at night and who would always be late for school the next day. He was unable to get to sleep before 3am, even though he would go to bed at midnight. He would be late for school and his grades suffered. Then, he failed school and had to have a home tutor who came to the house in the afternoon as he would be asleep until noon time.
It became evident that he had a disorder called the Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. This is disorder is due to an abnormal timing of sleep that causes the person to be able to go to bed later but have difficulty in getting up at an appropriate time.
After recognizing the cause of problem, he was given medication to advance his sleep pattern, called melatonin, and told to go to bed and get up 15 minutes earlier every day until his sleep time was close to midnight.
After several weeks, his sleep pattern improved and he was able to fall asleep at midnight and get up at 8am.
What do you want to tell teens about yourself?
Practising sleep medicine is very rewarding because there are so many different types of sleep problems that it is interesting to try to determine what is happening to the person during sleep.
In the sleep laboratory we can study peoples sleep patterns and see, not only what type of sleep they get, but also what is happening to their heart, breathing and other body functions during sleep.
Once the disorder is diagnosed there are many things that can be done to help the person get better sleep. There are even sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, that rarely can cause death during sleep. Fortunately, that only occurs rarely and most often occurs in middle-aged men who are very overweight, who snore loudly and stop breathing in their sleep. Once diagnosed, they can be cured of the disorder.
Do you have any questions that you would like to ask teenagers?
How do you sleep?
You need to think about sleep and ensure you get enough. Sleep deprivation is a major problem for teens and can be a cause of accidents, particularly motor vehicle accidents.
Do NOT drive if you are sleepy as there have been too many fatal accidents in teens who have fallen asleep at the wheel.
What do you consider to be some of your greatest achievements in your career?
Besides helping patients directly, I have carried out research, particularly in Narcolepsy and Sleep Apnea. Also, I have written several books on sleep disorders including: "The Encyclopedia of Sleep" and a computer CD-ROM called "SleepMultiMedia". I have a new book for the general public that has recently beeen published, called " Sleeping Well."
This interview was made possible through an unrestricted medical education grant from Cephalon, Inc.