Industry Inspiration: Dr. James K. Walsh Co-Chair, National Sleep Awareness Roundtable

Dr. James K. Walsh is the co-chair of the National Sleep Awareness Roundtable (NSART). Walsh, a published author on sleep and its disorders, has served on the board of directors and held many offices for the American Sleep Disorders Association, the National Sleep Foundation and the Sleep Research Society. He is a past president of the American Sleep Disorders Association. NSART officially launched March 7 during National Sleep Awareness Week. For more information about the organization, visit

What is the role of the National Sleep Awareness Roundtable?
The National Sleep Awareness Roundtable (NSART) is a national coalition of governmental, professional, voluntary and other organizations whose mission is to raise awareness about and reduce the impact of sleep deprivation and sleep disorders on public health and safety by improving communication and collaboration among local, state and federal agencies, professional organizations and the public.

NSART was founded by the National Sleep Foundation in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others on the basic principal that voluntary sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are so prevalent in the nation that the only way to effectively raise awareness of these issues is through unique partnerships. We hope to gain the interest of many diverse partners within the government, health and safety communities, and industry to find common messages, materials and programs that can be distributed at the national, state and local levels.

How will the organization’s task forces work to increase awareness of the impact of sleep disorders?
The roundtable hopes to develop strategies that help ensure that the general public and health care professionals recognize the signs and symptoms of sleep disorders in order to facilitate proper diagnosis and treatment. NSART will also seek innovative ways to introduce sleep information into high school and college curricula. We really hope that NSART will serve as a think tank where innovative ideas can be discussed and developed into practical materials, programs and interventions.

What is the current public perception of sleep-disordered breathing?
While awareness of sleep apnea is increasing, it is still not anywhere close to where it needs to be. It is estimated that about 80 percent of people with sleep apnea are undiagnosed and untreated. Increasingly, individuals are learning about the symptoms and impact of sleep apnea from the lay press and from contact with those who have received the diagnosis. Unfortunately, most primary care physicians receive no training in medical school about sleep or sleep disorders. Further, primary care clinicians may be daunted by the cost, delay and hassle factor of confirming a diagnosis of sleep apnea. NSART and its members will work to change perceptions and educate health care professionals so that more people are properly diagnosed and treated.

What research is currently under way for sleep?
There is enormous interest in the genetic basis of all diseases, including sleep disorders. In particular, ongoing work in unraveling the genetic underpinnings of narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome and obstructive sleep apnea is yielding exciting results. We are learning more about the epidemiology of sleep disorders, about why we sleep and what happens if we don’t, and about how to improve sleep quality for those with insomnia.

Better data and surveillance systems are needed to fully assess how sleep deprivation and disordered sleep are linked to morbidity and mortality and other public health concerns.

What advice would you give to the respiratory industry as it continues to work to seek out and treat people with sleep-disordered breathing?
Excellent patient care for patients with sleep-disordered breathing requires teamwork between the patient, the PAP provider and all the clinicians involved. Communication is the key. While access to diagnosis and treatment is important, it is equally important that sleep apnea be recognized and managed as a chronic disease. Chronic medical conditions warrant ongoing care, support and monitoring, particularly when active treatment requires commitment and education on the part of the patient. The respiratory community can play a very important role in educating the patient about their condition and the need to adhere to their treatment plan.

This article originally appeared in the Respiratory Management May/June 2007 issue of HME Business.

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