Wednesday, April 4, 2012



Researchers have learned a lot about sleep and sleep disorders in recent years. That knowledge has led to a better understanding of the importance of sleep to our lives and our health. Research supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has helped identify some of the causes of sleep disorders and their effects on the heart, brain, lungs, and other body systems. The NHLBI also supports ongoing research on the most effective ways to diagnose and treat sleep disorders.

Many questions remain about sleep and sleep disorders. The NHLBI continues to support a range of research that focuses on:

-      Better understanding of how a lack of sleep increases the risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke
-      New ways to diagnose sleep disorders
-      Genetic, environmental, and social factors that lead to sleep disorders
-      The adverse effects from a lack of sleep on body and brain

Much of this research depends on the willingness of volunteers to participate in clinical research. If you would like to help researchers advance science on sleep or about a sleep disorder you have and possible treatments, talk to your doctor about participating in clinical research. (For more information, see “Clinical Research”.)

Clinical research

Researchers can learn quite a bit about sleep and sleep disorders by studying animals. However, to fully understand sleep and its affect on health and functioning, as well as how best to diagnose and treat sleep disorders, researchers need to do clinical research on people. This type of research is called clinical research because it is often conducted in clinical settings, such as hospitals or doctors’ offices.

The two types of clinical research are clinical trials and clinical studies.

Clinical trials test new ways to diagnose, prevent, or treat various disorders. For example, treatments (such as medicines, medical devices, surgery, or other procedures) for a disorder need to be tested in people who have the disorder. A trial helps determine whether a treatment is safe and effective in humans before it is made available for public use. In a clinical trial, participants are randomly assigned to groups. One group receives the new treatment being tested. Other groups may receive a different treatment or a placebo (an inactive substance resembling a drug being tested). Comparing results from the groups gives researchers confidence that changes in the test group are due to the new treatment and not to other factors.

Other types of clinical studies are done to discover the factors, including environmental, behavioral, or genetic factors, that cause or worsen various disorders. Researchers may follow a group of people over time to learn what factors contribute to becoming sick.

Clinical studies and trials may be relatively brief, or may last for years and require many visits to the study sites. These sites usually are university hospitals or research centers, but they can include private doctors’ offices and community hospitals.

If you participate in clinical research, the research will be explained to you in detail, you will be given a chance to ask questions, and you will be asked to provide written permission. You may not directly benefit from the results of the clinical research you participate in, but the information gathered will help others and will add to scientific knowledge. Taking part in clinical research has other benefits, as well. You’ll learn more about your disorder, you’ll have the support of a team of health care providers, and your health will likely be monitored closely. However, participation also can have risks, which you should discuss with your doctor. No matter what you decide, your regular medical care will not be affected.

If you’re thinking about participating in a clinical study, you may have questions about the purpose of the study, the types of tests and treatment involved, how participation will affect your daily life, and whether any costs are involved. Your doctor may be able to answer some of your questions and help you find clinical studies in which you can participate. You also can visit the following Web sites to learn about being in a study and to search for clinical trials being done on your disorder: