Dr. William C. Dement, a professor at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, is considered the father of sleep medicine. In answer to my questions, he spoke about his early interest in sleep studies, the scientists who inspired him and how the study of sleep has evolved over half a century. Here is a transcript of our conversation.
Roger Ekirch is a professor of history at Virginia Tech and a leading scholar on segmented sleep -- the idea that for much of history people slept into two separate chunks separated by a waking period. In answer to my questions, he shared his insights on "normal" insomnia, how technological advances have changed the way we sleep, and why in many ways we're living in a golden age of sleep.
Though the need for sleep has been a constant throughout human history, how we feel about it has gone through dramatic changes over the years. We're now in the process of renewing our estranged relationship, especially as science, in the last two decades or so, has validated much of the ancient wisdom about the importance of sleep. Now that we have the means to get, relative to most of human history, the most unprecedentedly blissful sleep ever, we should allow ourselves to enjoy it. We live in a time in which we're plugged in and hyperconnected, often from the moment we wake up until the instant we drift off. Let's savor and safeguard sleep, not just for its performance benefits but for the special way it allows us to connect with ourselves. During the daytime technology allows us to travel across distance and space, but during the nighttime our dreams allow us to travel across time, spanning and connecting different parts of ourselves, allowing our senses of intuition and wisdom to flourish.