Local Doctor Takes Sleep Medicine to India

By Kathy Gilbert
Staff Writer

Dr. Anuj Chandra, director of Chattanooga’s Advanced Center for Sleep Disorders and a native of India, is transporting his specialty to his home country.

He’s part of a movement among American doctors, Dr. Chandra said, to export sleep medicine to a growing market in India.

“There is huge scope for American business — a $14 billion market. But I see it, as do a lot of other doctors, as something which could be beneficial to the entire country,” Dr. Chandra said.

Later this month, Dr. Chandra and several more U.S. physicians will lead the Second National Sleep Medicine Course in Bangalore, India. The workshop is hosted by the National Institute for Mental Health and Neuro Sciences. Dr. Chandra and Dr. Deepak Shrivastava of the University of California at Davis, co-founded the course.

Workshops will include studies of sleeping patients, monitored in a hospital-type setting, Dr. Chandra said. About 100 doctors will attend.

A new technique called servo-ventilation — using a machine that opens airways at night by mimicking breathing — will be demonstrated.

Sleep medicine is a relatively new medical discipline. The American Medical Association was founded in 1847. But the American Academy of Sleep Medicine was founded after 1975.

Today, more than 7,000 people specialize in caring for sleep health, according to the Academy.

Sleep diseases can cause more severe problems, such as heart disease, Dr. Chandra said.

About 40 million Americans — about 13 percent of the population — are now known to have a sleep disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnea (difficulty breathing at night), according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Studies in India show about the same proportion of people have sleep disorders as Americans, Dr. Chandra said.

Yet in a country of about 1 billion people, India has only about 50 sleep centers, Dr. Chandra said.

Tennessee has 24 centers, according to www.sleepcenters.org. The Chattanooga metro area, with a population of about 500,000, has four.

Sleep medicine is more important now, too, because India has become a “24-7 society,” Dr. Chandra said.

Indians serve the world’s businesses as telemarketers, writers, customer-service technicians and factory workers. Night shifts have become far more common.

More Indian people, therefore, are suffering from insomnia, Dr. Chandra said.

Physicians help by prescribing medication, as well as by reminding workers to sleep at least seven or eight hours and to wear dark glasses when coming back from work (darkness helps their systems ready for sleep).

The education for physicians, to pass along to their patients, is critical, Dr. Chandra said.

“It took us years to even classify (shift-work sleep disorder) as a disorder. In India, there has not been awareness so far this entity exists — and it is already a 24-7 society,” Dr. Chandra said.

E-mail Kathy Gilbert at kgilbert@timesfreepress.com

Photo Caption: Jeri Walker hooks up patient James Ragan to spend his second night of evaluation at the Advanced Center for Sleep Disorders. Dr. Anuj Chandra, director of the center, is one of several U.S. physicians traveling to India to teach a training course on sleep disorders.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry