Jun 25, 2018 in Research


Henri Pieron was A French scientist who was among the first scientists who researched on sleep and its causes at the University of Paris. He was qualified and trained in physiology and philosophy. He was the first among the many researchers in the past years who made headway by exploring on the neurochemistry theory that sleep is as a result of a chemical hypnotoxin. In 1907, he, along with his fellow French scientist, Rene Legendre experimented on sleep deprived dogs. In the experiment, hypnotoxin was induced into dogs that were not sleep deprived, and these dogs would sleep.  This theory was revived years later and was used as the base for further research by other renowned researchers who came after him. According to the experiment, the chemical is only temporary. The chemical accumulates whenever one is awake, that is mentally and physically activate. When the chemical accumulates for a long time, it is collected in the brain and absorbed into spinal fluid which results to the depressing feelings one gets after long hours without sleep. 

Henri later wrote the first book in 1913, “Le probleme physiologique du sommeil” on causes of sleep viewed in a physiological perspective. This book has been considered as the breakthrough to modern approach of sleep (popular science, 1933).

He also authored other books, “Thought and the Brain” and “Vocabulaire de la psychologe” that was published in 1987 and reprinted in 1999 and 1990 respectively.

Nathaniel Kleitman (1895-1999)

Nathaniel Kleitman was a professor emeritus at the university of Chicago department of physiology (the University Of Chicago Medical Center, 1999). He had been born in Russia but later migrated to USA in 1915. He acquired PhD. in physiology from the University of Chicago in 1923. He was later to become a member of the University of Chicago Faculty of physiology two years later. Because of his great contribution to research on sleep, he has often been referred to as the father of sleep research. His research on sleep started while studying in university. His thesis for the PhD. was named “Studies in the Philosophy of Sleep”. When he joined the department of physiology at the University of Chicago, he immediately started the University’s sleep research Laboratory.   He wrote his first book on sleep, “Sleep and Wakefulness”, in 1939. The book was revised and published in 1963.

In 1953, he, with one of his students, Eugene Aserinsky, discovered the rapid eye movement (REM) during sleep and related it to brain activity while sleeping. In the 1950s he and his colleagues revealed that sleep was an activity that is both dynamic and diverse process. This finding led to the discovery that the brain is activate during sleep. His findings were important as this new information was used to discover ways to treat sleep disorders. He explained sleep in its relation to wakefulness (Stireade, 2010). He continued with further research on eye movement and later he and another of his students William Dement recorded their findings on sleep and dreaming and the brain activity of EEG (Electroencephalograh). He also discovered that sleep deprivation affects the minds alertness. This student became a renowned researcher who started a sleep laboratory at StanfordUniversity.

Nathaniel’s research on sleep was conducted using himself, his family and friends as the research subjects. It is said that he once spent 180 years without sleep as he tried to discover the effects of sleep deprivation. He also recorded the sleep patterns of his daughter right from birth into their adulthood.

Related essays