NeuroVoices: James Rowley, MD, on SLEEP 2024 and the Direction of the AASM


The pulmonologist at Rush Health and immediate past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine provided perspective on some of the intriguing changes to sleep medicine and where the field is headed in the coming years.

James Rowley, MD

James Rowley, MD

Over the years, sleep has become more widely recognized as an important pillar of health. Sleep disorders, a group of conditions that disturb normal sleep patterns, are among one of the most common clinical problems encountered. Inadequate or non-restorative sleep can interfere with normal physical, mental, social, and emotional functioning. In addition, insufficient sleep can result in industrial or motor vehicle accidents, decreased work performance, and cognitive dysfunction.

The 2024 Joint Meeting of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and Sleep Research Society, held June 1-5, in Houston, Texas, encompassed the latest in science and clinical practice education of sleep medicine. With several thousand attendees, the meeting disseminates cutting-edge sleep and circadian research, promotes the translation of basic science into clinical practice, and fosters the future of the field by providing career opportunities at all levels. In addition, the SLEEP exhibit hall showcased the latest advances in sleep-related diagnostics and therapeutics, as well as devices and equipment for treating sleep disorders.

During the meeting, James Rowley, MD, immediate past president of the AASM, sat down with NeurologyLive® to share his thoughts around the exciting research being presented, and where the field is moving as a whole. Rowley, who currently serves as a pulmonologist at Rush Health in Chicago, Illinois, gave perspective on some of the emerging concepts being introduced, the changes to clinical care, and the organizations approach to advancing sleep medicine. As part of a new iteration of NeuroVoices, he shared insight on the need to continue to raise awareness of the importance of sleep, the ways sleep studies are becoming more efficient, and how technology will play a part going forward.

NeurologyLive: From this year’s meeting, what stands out to you?

James Rowley, MD: Our meeting this year is highlighting some of the changes in our field. We have several sessions that are discussing new technology, new guidelines, new ways of practicing sleep medicine. That's one of our focus areas these days, making sure that our clinicians and our other staff understand the changes in our field.

From an organization standpoint, where have efforts been geared towards and what do you expect over the coming years?

So, we’ve actually inaugurated a new strategic plan at this meeting. We've been working on it for the past year. It has three pillars. The first pillar focuses on advocacy. We're going to continue to advocate to the public, other physicians (particularly primary care physicians), government, and other federal and state agencies, making them aware of what sleep medicine is, the importance of board-certified sleep physicians, and how we can advocate for changes in payments, etc.

Our second pillar is called practice success. The idea is to help our members practice in a way that will be successful for them in terms of patient care, quality outcomes, and reimbursement, with a focus on providing the best care for our patients.

The last pillar, which I think is the most important, is technology integration. The idea is to lead the conversation on how we use new technologies in our sleep practices. There are many devices on the market, some true medical grade, like those used to diagnose sleep apnea, and many that are patient-focused, like Fitbits, Apple Watches, and Google Android devices. Patients come to us with data from these devices, and we need to determine if we can trust the device, how to use it effectively, and how to help the patient use it in a way that benefits them. Some patients become obsessed with the data, which is not always helpful.

How are we incorporating young medical professionals into the sleep medicine field? What are we doing to help them stay in this field?

The Academy and its foundation help fund American Medical Association grants to students, particularly those interested in sleep medicine, allowing them to pursue research projects in this field. The Academy also has a campaign called "Choose Sleep," which provides resources for residents to learn about sleep medicine and see it as a potential career path.

Additionally, we have an early career assembly for members within the first five years, offering networking opportunities, special webinars, and meetings to get more involved with the academy and the field.

Are there any emerging treatment concepts or ideas that will come to fruition in the coming years?

One of the biggest upcoming changes is the new guidelines on restless leg syndrome, which will significantly alter the first-line therapy. From a pharmaceutical perspective, there's hope for a new orexin agonist for narcolepsy, and there are also developments in sleep apnea medications, which could be groundbreaking. However, these medications might be niche rather than universally applicable.

In terms of AI, research is being funded to determine who will benefit most from CPAP and which masks are best suited for patients. AI also has the potential to refine the process of diagnosing and treating sleep apnea.

How have we worked towards making sleep studies easier?

AI might help make sleep studies more accessible and effective. While home sleep studies have made testing more accessible, we still need more data on the best types of home sleep apnea studies. We're also moving toward more personalized medicine, where phenotyping from full in-lab studies might help determine the best treatment. Balancing broad accessibility with finding the right treatment for each patient is crucial, and more research is needed in this area.

Click here for more coverage of SLEEP 2024.

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