Yale professor of medicine and clinical professor of nursing Meir Kryger, MD, recently participated in a virtual press conference, during which he spoke about the long history of sleep disorders, and gave tips about how to get a better night’s sleep.
What follows is an edited version of his remarks.
How long have you been studying sleep? What led you to study sleep?
I’ve been studying sleep since I was a medical resident in 1974. I had a patient who had a sleep problem but there was nothing known about sleep disturbances at the time, and nothing in the literature to explain what he had. The man had sleep apnea, which had not even been described in North America. I went on to publish the first paper in North America on sleep apnea. For me, studying sleep has been an adventure to see what I could learn and now to watch the field expand.
When were sleep disturbances first documented?
Sleep disorders have been around for thousands of years. Descriptions of sleep apnea date back to 325 B.C., where historians describe a tyrant named Dionysius, a contemporary of Alexander the Great who clearly suffered from what we now know to be sleep apnea. Also, Charles Dickens describes a young boy with sleep apnea in his first novel, “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club,” published in 1836.
What are some of the trends you are noticing in the sleep and dream habits of people during quarantine?
Due to the stress of the pandemic, many people are experiencing unstable sleep. People are having very vivid dreams, and they are remembering their dreams more than they have before. You remember a dream if you wake up either during or right after the dream. And, if the dream is frightening it will scare you. If someone has a repetitive nightmare and they wake up in a panic, that may be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).