Dr Rebecca Spencer Highlights How SLEEP 2023 Will Bridge Basic and Clinical Science


In this preview interview for SLEEP 2023, Rebecca Spencer, PhD, chair of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies Program Committee, highlights how bringing patients and clinicians together can inspire new ideas in sleep medicine.

Rebecca Spencer, PhD, is professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and chair, Associated Professional Sleep Societies Program Committee.

In this preview interview for SLEEP 2023, she highlights how bringing patients and clinicians together can inspire new ideas in sleep medicine and why attendees will see the area of sleep health disparities woven throughout the conference.


Why is the SLEEP Meeting such an important event in the sleep medicine space, for clinicians, researchers, and patients?

This conference is really big for our field, and the reason is that it brings together basic science researchers with clinical science sleep medicine researchers and with practitioners, and as you pointed out, with patients and patient advocates. And that integration is really where I think novel ideas come from. It's about dissemination, it's about viewing your findings through a different lens. All of that really is what inspires us to keep going, but also to maybe narrow our questions or direct our questions in really meaningful ways.

How will the content from this year's meeting build on knowledge gained in previous years and add to discussions in the field?

This meeting is really going to build on all of the work that's been kind of building up over the past few years, and it just keeps bringing to the forefront some really exciting areas, but also some new things to the table. It's really hard to highlight just any one thing.

I'll say one of the themes that I see that's really interesting is work on sleep health disparities, so some of our keynote lectures have talks around those themes. And I think that that's really an important direction, because then we can really think about where are the important areas for sleep medicine to be focusing on. Are we diversifying the populations in the studies that we've already done in the past? And really thinking about how that advances our targets for sleep medicine and sleep health.

There's just some other really great talks that I think are going to bridge the basic science and clinical science areas really well. We have some work focused on aging; as you can imagine, that's a really important area of sleep health as well. So really, we're just going to run the gamut from peds to geriatrics and everything in between.

It's really exciting to not only bring everybody together from these different areas—from medicine, from basic research—but also gone are the days of the pandemic when we were on Zoom. But there is still this tendency to do a lot of things virtually, and what we miss out on are those casual conversations that we have after the talks or after the meetings that I think is where a lot of the kind of true science happens. What I mean by that is, when we go to these conferences and we're able to sit over lunch and be like, “Let's talk about that meeting we were all just in. What did you think of that?” And you get your other ideas as to what might have been happening.

That's to me where the conversations happen. And now we can also integrate patients and patient advocates into those lunches we have later, and now we have clinicians and we have basic scientists all at the table. That to me is really where we get those ideas that become next year's conference presentations and the next year's conference presentations. So I think that's really what SLEEP is going to bring us and why I get so excited to be back there next week.

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