I’ve Been Demented!

I should have read Dr. William Dement’s classic, The Promise Of Sleep, many years ago. Perhaps the sheer size (almost 500 pages with minimal pictures) was somewhat intimidating, but I finally ordered a used copy off of Amazon, and found myself completely engrossed. I finished it while communting back and forth on the train in one week. It was written in 1999, but most of his information still holds true. The sad thing is that despite all warnings about the dangers of untreated sleep disorders and a call to all primary care physicians to wake up to the countless numbers of sleep deprived people who are literally killing themselves, not much has changed, from what I can see. Even in medical schools today, very little time is devoted to sleep medicine.

This book is Dr. Dement’s personal plea to everyone in this country to take sleep problems seriously. As the father of sleep medicine, he and a handful of sleep medicine pioneers created this new specialty within the past few decades. He switches back and forth between laugh-out-loud and hilarious accounts as a sleep researcher to heart-breaking stories of numerous people who died from easily preventable causes.

I was attracted to this book to  discover what he had to say about obstructive sleep apnea, but ended up being more fascinated by his descriptions of all the other various sleep disorders. His repetitive reminders about the importance of a cumulative sleep debt along with alerting cycles is an important concept that everyone should know about. His description of circadian rhythm disorders and adjusting to time zone differences is clear and easy to understand—by far the best that I’ve seen to date. At the end of the book, I expected to see the standard laundry list of sleep hygiene issues that all other books talk about. I was wrong. He gave balanced, common-sense reasons for why these recommendations are usually made, but leaves plenty of room for flexibility and adjustment for individual differences.

Dr. Dement’s book should be required reading for all medical students, physicians, and the lay public alike (in addition to my book, Sleep, Interrupted).

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