Dr Hrayr Attarian Discusses Sleep Inequities Among Refugees


Hrayr Attarian, MD, professor of neurology, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, shares findings on sleep inequities that have greatly impacted refugees.

A big gap in sleep research can be addressed by focusing on accessible sleep health care for vulnerable populations, says Hrayr Attarian, MD, professor of neurology, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine.

These findings were presented at the 2024 SLEEP: American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society (APSS) Annual Meeting.

This transcript was lightly edited.


Can you provide an overview of your presentation on sleep inequities?

Yes, so my presentation was specifically about refugees. There's now a fair amount of data from the 1990s and on, starting with displaced people post the fall of the Soviet Union, and there were inter-ethnic conflicts in different previously Soviet republics. So, the research sort of started there. And then now, the majority of it is in displaced people in the Middle East because of the many conflicts that we've seen over the past 25 years there.

I want to impart to people that they recognize that sleep disturbances are extremely high in this population, they are strongly associated with poor quality of life outcomes, and they may also impact their health. As far as interventions, we have very few because of limited resources, but there are ways by which successful interventions—even in very resource limited settings—can be implemented, as long as we first recognize the prevalence of sleep disorders in this population.

What do you believe are some of the biggest research gaps in understanding sleep health?

The biggest research gaps first of all [are] finding ways to make sleep health accessible to everybody, regardless of the situation and the income level. Also, we have to find ways to address crises that [have] happened. For example, with the Philips CPAP [continuous positive airway pressure] recall. There was a major vacuum, a lot of people's sleep apnea was suffering, and we didn't have any way of knowing what else we could do.

I think we need to be more prepared, because we don't know when something like that may happen [or] when another pandemic may hit. I think that, in my opinion, the biggest gaps are not necessarily in the hardcore research about pathophysiology, but in the delivery of care in to vulnerable populations and for everybody in unusual circumstances.

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