New School of Nursing center emerges to improve sleep

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New School of Nursing center emerges to improve sleep

Focus is people with chronic illness; $2.4 million NIH grant to fund research
Michael Steigmeyer

The University of Washington School of Nursing is launching a Center for Innovation in Sleep Self-Management, aimed at developing interventions to help adults and children with chronic illnesses sleep better.

The center is funded with a $2.4 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Sleep deficiency has been associated with increased risk for a number of negative health outcomes, including metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, human-error accidents and even early mortality. 

Teresa Ward, left, and Margaret Heitkemper will jointly lead the new UW Nursing sleep center.
pictures of Teresa Ward, left, and Margaret Heitkemper of University of Washington School of Nursing

“Sleep deficiency is linked to a higher risk of chronic health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity – and for individuals who already have these conditions, poor sleep can make managing their condition much more difficult,” said Teresa Ward, a UW associate professor of nursing and co-director of the center. 

“Developing self-management sleep interventions represents a new era in the sleep field," Ward said. “To date, there are very few studies in sleep literature on the specific use of self-management skills.”

The center will employ and explore technologies such as home sensors that track noise, light and temperature; mobile applications that measure diet, exercise and caffeine intake; and wristbands that monitor sleep-wake activity and light levels. These tools enable patients to monitor sleep behavior, set goals and receive feedback.

Researchers at the center also will collect and share data so that scientists and patients nationwide may benefit.

“Many adults and children with chronic conditions experience sleep deficiency, but sleep is not routinely assessed in primary-care settings,” Ward said. “Our research will help develop interventions that will, hopefully, allow individuals with chronic conditions to not only improve their sleep but also more effectively manage their chronic conditions.”

UW nurse scientists are pioneers in the sleep field. Dr. Elizabeth Giblin established the first nursing school-based sleep lab in the late 1970s. Only a few U.S. nursing schools maintain such labs. UW nursing faculty and staff have collaborated with colleagues to study sleep in chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, menopause, HIV, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and asthma.

“We are extremely excited to build on our school’s rich legacy of sleep research and carry on the success of pioneering nurse scientists,” said Margaret Heitkemper, center co-director and chair of the Department of Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems. “Adequate sleep is essential to optimal physical and social-emotional growth and development in children and adolescents and individuals of all ages.”

The grant will fund two new junior researchers, three pilot projects and a mentoring core for new investigators. UW assistant professors Oleg Zaslavsky and Jennifer Sonney will lead initial pilot projects.

Media contact: Staishy Bostick Siem, 206.221.8429,