In this podcast, Ruth Marion, Editor of The Sleep Forum and Allan O’Bryan, Executive Director of The Sleep Society speak with guest speaker, Dr. Richard Allen, Professor of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University.
O’Bryan explains to our listeners that “world sleep society is a non-profit, membership based organization representing sleep researchers and clinicians around the world focusing on awareness and education. Our leadership is volunteers looking to promote sleep worldwide. We use World Sleep Day as opportunity for our membership reach out to the public and highlight the importance of sleep.”
O'Bryan tells the listeners about Dr. Richard Allen and the extensive research he has done about restless leg syndrome (RLS). He has written over 300 peer reviewed articles on the topic of RLS. He is an undergraduate at MIT and graduate studies in psychology at Cambridge University in England.
When asked what is a sleep disorder and how do you know if you have a sleep disorder, Allen replied, "you don't sleep through the night, you are doing strange things in the night or you wake up feeling tired."
Allen talks about the long term effects of sleep deprivation or lack of restorative sleep. For example, he has had many patients that came to him and claimed to sleep eight hours a night but would get drowsy driving home after work and they would need to pull over. Allen reminds listeners that a lack of restorative sleep contributes to dementia and cardiovascular disease, among other illnesses.
Allen describes RLS as an old disorder dating back to the 1800's. The disease used to be minimized and people were told to control themselves or just calm down and stop it. There are different controls of movement that happen when you get ready to sleep or rest. Restless leg begins when the person is getting ready to sleep or rest and gets worse as the person lays down and attempts to sleep.
Allen talked about the treatment then and the treatment now. Early on in treatment, RLS patients would get referred to a psychiatrist. Several decades ago, you might have been given an opioid and told to go to a therapist and learn to relax. Current medications include dopamine and iron replacement. Current research is showing that a iron deficiency in the brain could cause RLS. Allen warns people not to take iron without a doctor monitoring it as too much iron could have worse consequences.
As researchers today, we are trying to identify any early biomarkers to determine what the risks are so people can avoid the things that will lead to RLS later in life. One of the biggest developments we are working on, Allen tells us, is a better method to deliver iron to the brain. We believe we will have that approved in 10 years or less. We are also looking at replacing oral iron which is unpleasant and causes gastritis with another iron supplement. Lastly, we are looking at genetics to see if there is any link.
Allen ends the podcast by stressing that with healthy restorative sleep we can improve cardiovascular health, avoid dementia and live a longer and more productive life as we enter our golden years.