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Welcome to the Sleep Metabolism and Health Center

Sleep research at the University of Chicago began when Professor Nathaniel Kleitman opened the world’s first sleep laboratory in 1925. He was the first scientist to make sleep the solely focus of his career. In 1939, he published the first major textbook on sleep, Sleep and Wakefulness, which became the “Bible” of sleep researchers everywhere. His collaboration with Eugene Aserinsky, a doctoral student, brought discoveries that revolutionized the way sleep was perceived. In 1953, the two described rapid eye movement (REM) sleep associated with dreaming. The previous notion that brain was ‘static’ during sleep was therefore discredited and a new era of sleep research started. Dr. Kleitman, with the help of another student, Dr. William Dement, continued to focus on distinguishing different stages of sleep and developing better techniques to monitor brain activity and eye movement. In 1957, they described a normal human sleep cycle with four distinct states that are still used today in sleep staging.

As sleep researchers accumulated more knowledge about the normal sleep state, demonstrating sleep abnormalities and their causes also became easier. The first sleep disorder, narcolepsy, characterized by sudden bouts of REM sleep disrupting wakefulness, was discussed in a 1963 publication by Dr. Allan Rechtschaffen and Gerry Vogel. Rechtschaffen, who was a director of the sleep research laboratory from 1958-1999, later focused on the biological functions of sleep by studying the effects of sleep deprivation in rats. Current research aims to provide links between sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality and health implications, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and memory loss. Dr. Eve Van Cauter has been leading the collaboration since 1999.