Meet Anne Morse: A Vocal Champion of Sleep Health
In this month’s story, meet Dr. Anne Morse, a Clinical Associate Professor with Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. Dr. Morse’s work primarily focuses on pediatric sleep medicine and child neurology, where she helps children with brain, spinal cord, muscle and nerve problems. It is Morse’s passion for sleep medicine that drives her, ‘because sleep is necessary and something we all do.’ That’s why Morse is a zealous advocate on the importance of good sleep hygiene.
How Important is Sleep?
Biologically speaking, sleep is one of the most important factors of life. Per the Sleep Foundation and research from MedLine Plus, “sleep is an essential function that allows your body and mind to recharge, leaving you refreshed and alert when you wake up.”
But why is this “recharge” time so important?
Research published in the National Library of Medicine stated: “sleep deprivation impairs attention and working memory, but it also affects other functions, such as long-term memory and decision-making,” per Alhola, et. al. In discussing the importance of sleep, Morse highlights the steep stakes that sleep deprivation and disorders present:
“When evaluating animal models and comparing subjects that are sleep deprived versus food deprived, the ones that die first are those that are sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation is used as a war tactic for a reason,” said Morse.
Deep, powerful words from Dr. Morse.
At its core, the universality of sleep is what drives Morse’s academic work. Sleep impacts development, memory, and in turn, health. In her own words, “sleep is an unadulterated neurodevelopment process that really signals the overall health and wellness of the brain.”
To paraphrase, sleep is what drives learning and recall.
When a patient experiences sleep challenges from a young age and is still developing, the impact is far greater. That’s why Morse has focused her attention on pediatric sleep medicine, specifically addressing problems as early as possible to generate a longer lasting patient impact.
The Impact of Poor Sleep on Children
From elephants only sleeping two hours a day to koalas sleeping 20+ hours, sleep is a part of life for every living creature. Research even shows that animals experience sleep issues, for example, domesticated cats and dogs suffer from insomnia.
So, why would children be any exception?
“All the issues we can see on the adult side in regards to sleep problems, we can also see in children. The reality is that if we can recognize [sleep problems] in children, it makes them more likely to not experience those same issues as an adult, because we had a chance to provide earlier intervention and change the trajectory of their lives,” said Morse.
Like a retirement account, the earlier you address the problem, the larger impact (or return) you can generate from your actions. Through her work, Morse is helping her pediatric patients have an optimal care journey, specifically when combating narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy Challenges in Pediatric Sleep Medicine
The ability to work closely with children, specifically in healthcare, is a skill Morse has refined. And while working with pediatric patients can be challenging, it is rewarding when you see success.
“When you are exposed to children, you see how incredible they are because of the strength that they have,” said Morse, adding: “You can’t help but align yourself with this patient population.”
It is easy to invest in work that truly leads to better long-term outcomes for patients. That’s why Morse is so focused on finding solutions to improve life with narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy is a neurological disease that has been found to be a result of injury to lateral hypothalamus, where hypocretin, a wake promoting neurotransmitter is produced.This in turn disrupts your normal neurochemistry. The daily challenges for people living with untreated narcolepsy include: excessive sleepiness, cataplexy, disturbed night time sleep, sleep paralysis, hallucinations and brain fog.
Because untreated patients suffer from these issues, Morse believes we could be doing more for most pediatric patients, who often go undiagnosed, and therefore untreated, until they reach the age of 18.
“It is unacceptable that children who are affected by this condition go 8, 10, 12 years before they’re in adulthood and finally are diagnosed with narcolepsy,” she said, adding: “It’s largely because of our own ignorance of the disease itself. That’s why I have been so interested in this disease, and I feel very emboldened to encourage other neurologists to step up their game.”
And while narcolepsy is Morse’s forte, she also is an advocate for sleep medicine as a whole, and believes now is the time to jump on the sleep health bandwagon. As an actionable step forward, Morse created a school-based sleep education and screening program, called Wake Up and Learn, to encourage this culture shift. With the program, Morse aims to improve recognition and expedite treatment of disordered sleep.
Sleep Medicine is Growing in Importance
Sleep health is being more widely recognized as a contributing factor to an overall healthy lifestyle. Even the American Heart Association’s has revised their Life’s Essential 7 to become Life’s Essential 8, now including sleep as an additional pillar of health and wellness, along with eating better, being more active, and quitting tobacco use.
However, the acceptance of sleep as a critical contributor to maintenance of health is still limited. The result?
A lack of an integrated approach across healthcare systems, which reduce recognition of disordered sleep in high risk patient and failure to use sleep optimization as a tool to improve patient outcomes and quality of life.
Morse wants more expeditious change, doubling down on a her campaign around sleep as a tool to optimize physical, cognitive and emotional wellness.
“A major driver for incorporating sleep more holistically in healthcare organizations is the shift from a fee-for-service system to a value-based-outcomes system. If I’m looking at achieving better outcomes, I better be looking at sleep, because it will be a differentiator for my bottom line,” said Morse, adding: “We need to talk about sleep in a way that makes it influential on outcomes that people in places of power actually worry about: the pocketbook.”
Money talks. And now, sleep has money on its side, as evidenced by recent research on the fiscal value of treating sleep disorders. This is something Morse was quick to highlight on TikTok of all places.
Advocating for Sleep Health on TikTok and Beyond
Morse is a self-proclaimed advocate for sleep-wake disorders, and while she’s everywhere, one platform where she really brings in the eyeballs is on TikTok. Her easy-to-digest content bites are perfect for conveying the importance of sleep health to the masses.
Education and awareness for the general population alone isn’t going to create the transformative change that Morse is after. She believes it requires getting to more clinicians, patient advocacy groups, and eventually directly to patient-consumers who are prioritizing their sleep health.
“I’m making a transformative change because I’m able to engage, educate, and support thousands of people to help them get a more optimal experience with their healthcare system,” said Morse of the TikTok platform. “The average person is learning differently these days. People are consuming bite-sized pieces of information that will punch you in the face. That is not just true for the general public, but also among medical students and even my peers in medical practice.”
Morse emphasized the value of providing “infotainment” for her audience. Education, information, and a little fun, all rolled up in one playful approach. It’s not a dry delivery of information, so it resonates with people. In turn, they want to consume more of that content and discover how it might be relevant for them individually. Beyond educating the masses, Morse has excellent advice for physicians, as well:
“Remember that sleep is an evaluation of quality, duration, timing, but also next day performance. Do not package your patient into the disease that you diagnose or suspect if they’re not improving. We’ve become a field that’s limited ourselves to validated questionnaires and what we can see in front of our eyes while our patient’s continue to suffer, struggle, and feel as though they are unheard. So, take a step back, listen to your patient, and treat the person in front of you,” said Morse.
Great advice from Dr. Morse, and that’s where we’ll leave it for the month.
If you’re looking for more advice from Dr. Morse, you should dive into her TikTok content here. Or, you can check out some of our other sleep stories down below.