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Sleep Pioneer Dies at 91

William Dement, the Stanford psychiatry professor known as "the father of sleep medicine," died at age 91 on June 17, 2020.

Dement began working as a medical researcher in the 1950s when the subject of sleep wasn't considered all that important by the medical community.

But Dement advanced the study of sleep in partnership while working with colleagues at the University of Chicago. He conducted some of the earliest studies regarding rapid eye movement sleep, or REM, and identified this as the dream stage.

His work also helped to reveal that sleeping was more than a single state; it was a cycle. His work also involved tracking brainwaves using electroencephalograms, as well as eye movements through polysomnography.

His efforts help to spur the science of sleep and interest in the risks of sleep deprivation, which include an increased risk of diabetes and a higher potential for car accidents.

He also highlighted the cardiovascular risks and other effects of sleep breathing disorder, such as sleep apnea.

"Sleep apnea is a condition in which sufferers experience repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep," said Dr. David Buck, a Seattle dentist.

When the body experiences repeated interruptions in breathing, oxygen does not flow into the lungs, so it does not reach the cells, organs and tissues that need it for restoration and support.

"Without oxygen, cells die or become damaged. This damage is a signal for the body that something is going on and to fire up the immune system response of inflammation," Buck said.

Chronic inflammation can lead to serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, liver and kidney issues, and cognitive issues such as Alzheimer's and dementia.

"Many people living with sleep apnea also struggle with depression, anxiety and obesity, which adds additional challenges and potential complications for overall health," Buck said.

Sleep apnea affects more than 22 million Americans, many of whom are undiagnosed. The most common form of the condition is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), caused by physical obstruction to the airway, such as the tongue or the muscles of the throat collapsing.

"Sleep apnea is a serious health problem, and if it wasn't for Dr. Dement, knowledge and treatments for the condition may not exist today," Buck said.

Source: NPR. 'The Father of Sleep Science' Dr. William Dement Dies at 91. 24 June 2020.

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