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Stanford University School of Medicine

Stanford’s William Dement weighs in on dreams, naps and bedtime routines

Anyone interested in sleep is in for a real treat: William Dement, MD, PhD, known as the father of sleep medicine, joined host Jeremy Hobson on NPR's "Here & Now" today for a 10-minute interview on all things sleep. (The conversation begins at the 10:30 mark above.)

Dement, who founded the Stanford University Sleep Disorders Clinic in 1970, has given scores of interviews over the years -- but now that he's nearing 89, his media appearances have been (understandably!) a bit less frequent.

The conversation was classic Dement: candid and informative. For instance, how do you know if you don't have a sleep problem? "Even if you think you have disturbed sleep or aren't falling asleep quick enough... if you feel fine and wide awake and alert all day long, forget it, it's not a problem," Dement said.

True sleep problems, such as obstructive sleep apnea, interfere with your ability to function the next day, he explained.

And how long should we sleep each night? Hobson asked. Each person has different sleep needs, which can change over time, Dement said. But often, people don't have an accurate sense of how much they sleep, he said. "You can have ups and downs, you sleep a little less or a little more, make time to take a nap. Very few people keep track of it over a sufficiently large number of days to really pin it down."

Dement also addressed several common misconceptions about sleep.

First, naps -- are they good, or bad? He weighed in:

If you are sleepy and you have something coming up that is going to require alert behavior, taking a nap is a good thing. I personally have begun to nap.

Then, what about television before bed? Sometimes that can be problematic, Dement admitted, adding:

But for some people, TV lulls you to sleep. My own personal system is to pick a radio program that is very, very dull... It distracts you from any concerns.

Not, he quickly clarified, "Here & Now." "No, no, this is a very exciting one," he reassured Hobson.

Dement also offered one insight into rapid eye movements -- which occur during a particular period of sleep -- that I'll be thinking about for some time. At least sometimes, our eyes are moving to watch our dreams, he said. "We once worked with someone whose eyes were moving back and forth very regularly -- he was dreaming of watching a tennis match."

The whole interview is well worth a listen.

Previously: Rolling through campus and talking sleep with famed researcher William Dement, Exploring the history and study of sleep with Stanford's William Dement and William Dement: Stanford Medicine's "Sandman" 
Photo by Steve Fisch

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