In honor of Women’s History Month, I am profiling nine female health advocates who inspire me to follow my dreams. These women are trailblazers – leading the way for other women to optimize their health and triumph over adversity. Part I highlighted leaders in Women’s Health issues. Today, I present 3 superstar sleep advocates:
4. Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post Media Group
A self-proclaimed “Sleep Evangelist,” it’s no mystery why Arianna Huffington is on this list. Huffington is the ultimate Wonder Woman running a successful web universe with over 250 million users a month. Her secret to success? “My single most effective trick for getting things done is to stop doing what I’m doing and get some sleep,” she told Slate.com.
Huffington wasn’t always a sleep evangelist. In 2007, she fainted from exhaustion, hit her head on her desk, broke her cheek-bone and got five stiches above her right eye. “I learned the hard way the value of sleep,” she described in her TED Talk.
Huffington writes passionate articles about sleep and the Huff Post Sleep page covers a great number of sleep stories. It’s my dream to team up with Huffington someday to pursue our shared goal. We still have a ways to go. Although I love her TED Talk, I can’t help but cringe when the audience laughs at her mention of sleep. It’s not a joke – Huffington is serious about sleep.
5. Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD
Professor of Neurology, Neurobiology & Physiology,
Northwestern University School of Medicine
Director, Sleep Disorders Program, Northwestern University
Dr. Phyllis Zee is a leading sleep expert and researcher. Her research focuses on the genetic regulation of circadian sleep disorders, the effects of age on sleep and circadian rhythms, and behavioral interventions to improve sleep and performance.
Dr. Zee is an active advocate for sleep research. “We boast about how little sleep we need — like it’s a badge of honor,” she described in an interview. Bravo!
In our 24 hour on-the-go society, Dr. Zee eloquently makes her case for sleep, describing, “There’s now beautiful data on how sleep deprivation affects learning, memory, executive function. How you’re more at risk for cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders, such as diabetes. It’s relevant to every field of medicine.”
Dr. Zee’s presentations are always a highlight of any sleep conference or meeting I attend – including the Congressional Breifing last spring. She also listens carefully and has encouraged me to continue raising my voice.
Dr. Zee’s circadian rhythms research has practical benefits for all – including establishing when it’s the best time of day to workout. “The best time to work out is in the late afternoon,” Dr, Zee explained to CNN. “The reason for that is your muscle strength is at its peak, its highest. You’re going to be less likely to injure yourself. It’s also a time when people are most awake and alert.”
Circadian rhythms operate like an internal clock in the body, sending neuron signals from the hypothalamus to control sleep patterns, blood pressure, mood, and even body temperature. According to Dr. Zee, our afternoon body temperature is between one and two degrees warmer than in the morning, making muscles more supple and lowering the risk of injury.
As a runner and yogi, I find this fascinating!
6. Judith Owens, MD, MPH
Director of Sleep Medicine at Children’s National Medical Center
Dr. Judith Owens is an internationally recognized authority on children and sleep. She’s also a fellow Brown alum! Her research interests include the neurobehavioral and health consequences of sleep problems in children, pharmacologic treatment of pediatric sleep disorders, and cultural and psychosocial issues that impact sleep.
“Consider that (sleep) is one of the building blocks of your child’s health, well-being and academic success,” Dr. Owens described to CNN. “It’s equivalent to good nutrition, exercise and all the other things we try to foster and provide for our children. You’ve got to put sleep right up there at the top of the list.”
Dr. Owens is the author of more than 75 original research and review articles in peer-review journals, chapters, and books on the topic of pediatric sleep. In 2012, she won the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM)’s Mark O. Hatfield Public Policy Award.
While all her formal accolades are well deserved, this isn’t why Dr. Owens is on my list.
Here’s why: for the past two years, Dr. Owens has attended the annual National Sleep Walk on the National Mall. Each year, she’s braved freezing cold temperatures with a warm effortless smile – walking and talking with patients and sleep advocates all morning. For me, this exemplifies Dr. Owens’ awe-inspiring dedication to the sleep community.