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From: Jon Koplik7/13/2020 1:34:42 AM
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WSJ obituary of William Dement, Stanford professor saw urgent need to treat insomnia, apnea, etc. ............

[ Check out the part I underlined, near the end. Jon. ]


July 10, 2020

William Dement Diagnosed America as Sleep-Deprived

Stanford professor saw urgent need to treat insomnia, apnea and other disorders

By James R. Hagerty

William Dement, a medical professor at Stanford University, spent his career trying to wake Americans up to the dangers of not getting enough sleep.

In 1970, Dr. Dement opened what he called the world’s first sleep-disorders clinic at Stanford. He established the treatment of those disorders as a board-certified medical specialty, lectured across the nation and taught a hugely popular undergraduate course called Sleep and Dreams. Typing with two fingers, he wrote books and more than 500 scientific articles.

Dr. Dement, who died of heart failure June 17 at the age of 91, kept his message simple for laypeople. On Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” in 1974, he told the late-night audience that “sleepiness is a signal to go to bed.”

Even so, in a 2007 speech, he said too few people were seeking or being offered medical treatment for insomnia, sleep apnea and other ailments that deprived them of adequate sleep. Failing to treat those ailments increases the risks of falling asleep at the wheel and can lead to a weakened immune system and heart disease, among other health problems.

“We are not a sleep-aware society,” Dr. Dement said. “The challenge today is education.”

As a sleep doctor, he was always on duty. On a commercial flight, he once noticed a man snoring. Later, spotting the same man in an airport restroom, Dr. Dement warned him of the risks of sleep apnea. The snorer stalked off without thanking Dr. Dement for his advice.

Rafael Pelayo, a Stanford professor of sleep medicine, said many others did heed his messages, and countless lives were saved as a result.

William Charles Dement was born July 29, 1928, and grew up in Walla Walla, Wash., where his father was a bookkeeper. Stationed by the Army in Japan after World War II, he edited a regimental newspaper.

While studying basic medical science at the University of Washington, he lived on a houseboat and played the string bass in jazz bands.

He wanted to become a psychoanalyst and enrolled in graduate school at the University of Chicago. There he met a physiologist, Nathaniel Kleitman, and a graduate student, Eugene Aserinsky, and worked with them on research illuminating what became known as rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep, the phase most associated with dreams. Dr. Dement earned a medical degree in 1955 and Ph.D. in neurophysiology two years later.

As a research fellow at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, he conducted sleep research in his own Manhattan apartment. To find people willing to be monitored while sleeping, he advertised in a newspaper and attracted members of the Radio City Rockettes dance troupe.

His studies included electroencephalography, or EEG, tests in which electrodes were attached to the scalp to chart brain activity. Aside from the Rockettes, he ran tests on his wife, the former Eleanor “Pat” Weber, and himself.

When Congress created a national commission on sleep disorders, he was selected as chairman and held public hearings in the early 1990s. The commission estimated that 40 million Americans suffered from chronic sleep disorders.

The consequences, Dr. Dement argued, included deadly automobile and industrial accidents, along with impairment of “intellectual and emotional capacity.” The commission said fatigue helped cause the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and the Three Mile Island nuclear-plant accident in 1979.

During his Sleep and Dreams courses at Stanford, he sometimes used a squirt gun to rouse those who nodded off. In recent years, he navigated the Stanford campus in a customized golf cart known as the Sleep and Dreams Shuttle.

He is survived by three children and six grandchildren, including Zaniel Zaiden Zooey Dement, whose initials, ZZZ, honor his grandfather. His wife, Pat Dement, died in 2014.

When he had trouble sleeping, Dr. Dement said, he resorted to watching dull television programs or listening to the radio.

One mystery he couldn’t solve was the purpose of dreams. “It’s very puzzling,” he once said. “What can it be for? Can it be some kind of cosmic joke?”

Write to James R. Hagerty at

Copyright © 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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