Nathanial Kleitman and Sleep Research

The father of modern sleep research, Nathanial Kleitman, was born in 1895 and died in 1999. He was a University of Chicago physiologist and co-conductor of Kleitman-Dement Dream Research. (William C. Dement, as a second year medical student, was working in Kleitman’s Sleep Research Laboratory at the University of Chicago in 1953 when (REM), rapid-eye-movement sleep phase was discovered. The term rapid-eye-movement REM) as terminology was first used by Dement. Now is is ‘standard nomenclature”. He is now Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School and currently ‘researching the problems that plague millions of people when they sleep.’)

Dr. Kleitman’s book, ‘Sleep and Wakefulness’ was first printed in 1939. In 1963 a second edition was printed. It is still in use today and is ‘a definitive source book for sleep behavior.The reason, he believed, that dreams were hard to remember is that the brain centers are ‘deactivated’ during sleep, or operating at a much lower pace.” And concerning the cerebral cortex, the center of learning and remembering, the brain “selects, abstracts, sorts and memorizes” when awake and the body is fully active, but during sleep, it too “naps”.

A suggestion has been made that in order to prod the cerebral to action so that a particular interesting, or aggravating dream can be dissected during the day, grab a piece of paper and pencil and write down the dream as soon as one awakens. In other words, get down before memory of it is gone. After a while, remembering will be easier.

J. M. Seigel says in his online article that Kleitman is “the father of modern sleep research”. His studies cover everything having to do with sleep such as “circadian rhythms, sleep disorders, hibernation and theories of sleep function.” He built a good solid foundation for future research. Nothing, it seems, that had anything to do with sleep was left untouched by his studious minds.

His methods at the time may have seemed a little bazaar but there was a purpose to his madness. He insisted on his research subjects sleeping in the mammoth cave where the climatic temperatures were even and were not subject to change so that his findings would be more accurate. In his methods he was the forerunner of much technological innovations and studies going on today.

This acutely intelligent old Gentleman at the age of 100 was still able to talk about his pioneering studies and told of his excitement of his work during some scientific meeting in Tennessee. He “gave a clear and moving presentations” according to Siegel. Those following in his footsteps have fond memories of him and found him a great source of delight as they began their sleep studies and he began to lessen his.

“Don Bliwise relates Kleitman’s eagerness to help as a subject in his studies of sleep in the elderly and his feisty independence and resourcefulness. Eiland and Lyamin of my group present the first studies of neuronal activity during reptilian sleep and use it to address the question of sleep evolution, an issue carefully considered by Kleitman in his book.”