• Science Saturday: Getting to the Heart of Sleep

Sleeping poorly can do more than make you tired. It can kill you.

Growing up in South Africa, Virend Somers and his two cousins would lie on a big bed with their grandfather as he told them stories. “We really enjoyed the stories. But what we also looked forward to — I say this with a bit of guilt now — is when he’d fall asleep. He would start snoring, and he’d stop breathing for these long periods. There’d be these incredible gasps when he’d breathe again. It was fascinating to us to study this from a child’s point of view. But we didn’t quite realize the implications,” he recalls.

That was his introduction to obstructive sleep apnea. Now, as a physician researcher, Virend Somers, M.D., Ph.D., directs the Mayo Clinic cardiovascular sleep research facilities. His team studies the role of the autonomic nervous system in cardiovascular regulation, especially during sleep. Yet that memory of his grandfather lives on in his medical research and practice.

“As it turned out, he died in his sleep,” he says. “It’s only now in later years that I’m beginning to understand what happened.” Read the rest of the article on Discovery's Edge.

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