“My battle cry was ‘the house of medicine has no bedroom.’ I don’t know how many times I said that!” – Dr. William Dement
Most people don’t think of the number of times you wake up per hour. Well imagine your sleep is interrupted thirty times every hour, and then you’re supposed perform the next day and perform at your best when obviously you don’t. The improvement in waking function when you correct sleep disorders is often quite remarkable.
Sleep medicine wasn’t always an acknowledged discipline. For several years, we lobbied the American Medical Association that they should do something about sleep. My battle cry was “the house of medicine has no bedroom.” I don’t know how many times I said that. We now have a seat in the AMA.
Everything was hard. One of my favorite stories is of the medical community of a major insurer hearing my plea to be reimbursed for sleep medicine and one of the members of the committee finally just got up and said “I will not stay in the same room with this charlatan.” I actually owe him a great favor, because he so embarrassed the rest of the committee that they approved my proposal. I don’t know his name, but that was a very, very big thing.
I have a file of letters from people who avoided catastrophe. Drowsiness is a major problem on the highways. When people’s eyelids get heavy, they press on, but we make it clear that that’s the signal to get off the road, without exception. And so I have letters that say “you saved my life, I would have done this,” or “I saw my husband’s eyes start to close and I made him stop” and so on. And of course there can be errors in every other activity if you are sleep-deprived.
William Charles Dement, MD, PhD is the Lowell W. and Josephine Q. Berry Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, the Division Chief of the Stanford University Division of Sleep and a founding father of the specialty of sleep medicine. He is co-author of 500 scientific publications and is co-editor of the fifth edition of Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine.
Dr. Dement was co-founder of the Sleep Research Society and founding President of the American Sleep Disorders Association. During his Presidency, the ASDA grew from five sleep disorders centers with about twenty individual members to about 140 accredited centers with over 2,000 members. Dr. Dement is a public policy leader and advocate and was appointed by Congress as a Chairman of the National Commission on Sleep Disorders. The committee’s study and recommendation led to the creation of the National Center of Sleep Disorders research within the NIH.