Stephen H. Sheldon, DO, is a longtime supporter of the AASM Foundation. Dr. Sheldon is a professor of pediatrics and neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and the director of the Sleep Medicine Center at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. As an accomplished physician, his role as chair of the AASM Foundation Development Council is invaluable. Dr. Sheldon is an esteemed pediatrician who has spent decades in the field of sleep medicine. The recipient of numerous awards, including being designated one of Chicago’s Top Doctors by Chicago Magazine, Dr. Sheldon is recognized nationwide for his expertise. The AASM Foundation is thankful for his donations and dedication to giving back to his profession.
How did you become interested in pediatric sleep medicine?
In 1979, I was the Program Director of the Pediatric Residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medicine Center in Chicago. I had a patient with a very complex sleep disorder and at that time was fortunate to be at one of the few medical centers with a specialized sleep disorders center directed by Dr. Rosalind Cartwright. We spent many hours discussing sleep and its disorders and I spent many hours in the library discovering the paucity of information available regarding pediatric sleep. I became instantly hooked, limited my practice to pediatric sleep disorders, and ultimately took a visiting faculty fellowship in sleep disorders at the University of Chicago.
How do you see the sleep profession evolving to better serve the needs of children?
This is a very complex issue. Development of pediatric sleep medicine has remarkably paralleled the development of the specialty of pediatrics more than 100 years ago. Pediatrics was initially an offshoot of internal medicine, with only a handful of internists limiting their practices to children. Focus of medical care was on adults and health care of children was primarily left to mothers and grandmothers. There were very few remedies for children except for sun and fresh air. There were no children’s hospitals and the care of critically ill children was conducted in corners of adult medical wards. Similar to pediatrics, during the late 1970’s and 1980’s there had been only a very small cadre of pediatricians who limited their practices to sleep disorders in children. These children were taken care of in corners of adult sleep disorders centers. Pediatricians board certified in sleep medicine has not yet reached a critical mass, resulting in the vast majority of children requiring sleep medicine services provided by sleep medicine specialists who were trained in “adult medicine,” with little to no experience treating children. Children are not just small adults. Anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, and sleep are very different when compared to adults. Additional complexity rests in the fact that children are “moving targets” in that they are constantly growing and developing, with ever-changing anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, and sleep. In order to better serve the needs of children, there must be greater emphasis on pediatric sleep medicine in sleep medicine fellowship training. There must be continuing medical education intensely focusing on childhood sleep and its disorders primarily geared for adult-trained sleep specialists in order to provide access of care to sleep health care services, while educating and training pediatricians to become certified in sleep medicine in order to meet critical mass of practitioners needed to provide capable and competent sleep health care to all children.
As a longtime donor to the AASM foundation, what excites you about the future of clincial research in sleep medicine?
Sleep medicine is a rapidly advancing field. In the scheme of things it is quite young when compared to other specialties. Opportunity for the specialty of sleep medicine to expand into important and most formative years of development with a focus on infants and toddlers is exciting. As we learn more about how sleep effects human development and how abnormal sleep can profoundly affect long-term outcome, focus on maximizing sleep health during these very vulnerable years is rapidly progressing. New emphasis on neonatal sleep and maternal sleep during prenatal development is also an exciting development that can result in very significant steps in improving health and well-being. Clinical research and educational research into pediatric sleep health care can significantly improve sleep health care for infants, children, and adolescents.