May 11, 2004

"Why do we sleep? What if we don't?"

Emmanuel Mignot, M.D., Ph.D.

Stanford University Professor
of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Director of the Center for Narcolepsy

Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, is internationally recognized for discovering the cause of narcolepsy. He is also known for his discovery of a variation of the "clock" gene that appears to alter individuals' internal biorhythms and for the finding of a gene variant that predisposes to breathing interruptions during sleep, or sleep apnea.

After giving a brief refresher course on the various stages of sleep and the workings of the circadian clock, Dr. Mignot stressed that sleep research and sleep disorder treatments are still in their infancy.  One of the difficulties sleep research has to overcome is that while we know sleep developed very early on in the evolutionary process of living organisms, and sleep is absolutely necessary for survival, the function of sleep is one of the last remaining mysteries in biology today.  Progress in this domain is crucially necessary as the personal effects and societal consequences of sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are becoming better known.  One of the most common sleep disorders is sleep deprivation, which leads to the accumulation of sleep debt and is responsible for a large proportion of often-fatal automobile accidents.  In children, sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea are often ignored although they may lead to serious medical conditions and can be held responsible for 20 to 40% of ADHD cases (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders.)  Dr. Mignot's discovery of the cause of narcolepsy has had a direct impact on the diagnosis of the disease and will have substantial implications in the short term on therapy and in the long term in the development of a cure for the disorder.  Responding to questions on sleepwalking and insomnia, Dr. Mignot recommended consulting sleep specialists, as pharmacological as well as behavioral treatments exist for these conditions.  Dr. Mignot deplored our society's diminishing sleep habits and encouraged the audience to follow his personal example: sleep at least 8 hours and wake up without an alarm clock! 

For more information visit the Stanford University Center for Narcolepsy web site at: http://www.med.stanford.edu/school/Psychiatry/narcolepsy/
Photo credit: Roger Whiting