After seeing the Rockettes with my family last week, I was reminded of a story in Dr. William Dement’s classic book, The Promise of Sleep. Just after receiving his Ph.D., Dement moved to New York city to work at Mt. Sinai Hospital in the late 1950s. He and his wife found a large apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which doubled as a research lab.
About 10 years earlier, Dement had been a medical student doing research in Chicago with Drs. Aserinsky and Kleitman, the discoverers of REM sleep. Up until then, Dr. Aserinsky refused to allow overnight sleep studies on women. Finally, he relented and allowed Dement to test his then girlfriend, as long as a chaperone was present. He found that a woman can also have periods of REM sleep.
Sleep studies in women were very sparse in that era until Dement moved to New York City. He began to recruit women to be studied in his apartment, funded by a National Institute of Health (NIH) grant. One of the first people to respond to his ad was a Barnard student, who was also a dancer for the Rockettes. She in turn referred other fellow Rockettes, who were happy to get paid for sleeping. Dement describes a nightly stream of women in theatrical makeup, asking the doorman for Dr. Dement’s apartment. The next morning, the women would leave, sometimes along with an exhausted and unshaven Howie Roffwarg, a psychiatry resident at Columbia who monitored the nightly studies.
As you can see, the Rockettes were instrumental in the basic understanding and development of sleep medicine.
Dement describes lots of other fascinating stories and details on the history of sleep medicine. Not only is his book worth reading, it will also give you a good basic understanding of sleep disorders in general.
Besides Dement’s book, what other books on sleep do you recommend? Please type in your answers below in the comments section.