Sleep Research Timeline

The following timeline describes some of the important milestones in the history of sleep research:

Year Event
1875 Caton records the brain electrical activity of animals in England.
1877 The problem of narcolepsy is first described in the medical literature.
1880 Gelineau describes a group of patients in France with a problem he names “narcolepsy.”
1902 Loewenfeld coins the term “cataplexy” to describe the onset of muscle weakness that often affects people with narcolepsy.
1929 Berger discovers and reports the “electroencephalogram (EEG) of man” in Germany.
1937 Loomis documents the EEG patterns of what is now called non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.
1945 Ekbom describes restless legs syndrome in Sweden.
1953 Kleitman and Aserinsky at the University of Chicago describe the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep and propose a correlation with dreaming.
1956 Burwell and colleagues publish a description of the obesity hypoventilation (Pickwickian) syndrome, laying the groundwork for the discovery of obstructive sleep apnea.
1957 Dement and Kleitman describe the repeating stages of the human sleep cycle.
1960 Vogel recognizes that REM sleep in narcoleptics begins near sleep onset rather than one to two hours later.
1963 Wurtman and colleagues report that melatonin synthesis in the pineal gland is under the inhibitory control of light.
1965 Oswald and Priest use the sleep laboratory to evaluate sleeping pills.
1966 Gastaut and colleagues in France, and Jung and Kuhlo in Germany discover obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
1968 Rechtschaffen and Kales publish a scoring manual that allows for the universal, objective comparison of human sleep stage data.
1972 Studies pinpoint the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) as the site of the biologic clock.
1973 First report of a narcoleptic dog.
1974 Holland gives the name “polysomnography” to the overnight sleep study.
1976 Carskadon established sleep latency as an objective measurement of sleepiness.
1981 Sullivan and colleagues use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to treat OSA.
1986 Schenck, Mahowald and colleagues publish the first formal description of REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD).
1989 Rechtschaffen and colleagues find that total sleep deprivation results in the death of all rats within two to three weeks.
1991 Johns develops Epworth Sleepiness Scale to diagnose sleep disorders.
1999 Studies show that hypocretin mutations cause narcolepsy in mice and dogs.
2000 Mignot and colleagues at Stanford discover that human narcolepsy also is associated with hypocretin deficiency.
2001 Ptacek et al discover 1st human gene involved in circadian rhythms.
2003 Stickgold and colleagues publish evidence of sleep’s affect on memory and learning process.
2007 American Academy of Sleep Medicine reclassifies stages of non-REM sleep into 3 categories.
2008 Young and colleagues find high mortality risk for untreated sleep-disordered breathing.
2010 Redline et al associate obstructive sleep apnea with increased stroke risk for men.


Shepard JW, Buysse DJ, Chesson AL, et al. History of the development of sleep medicine in the United States. J Clin Sleep Med. 2005;1:61-82.
Mignot E. History of narcolepsy. A hundred years of narcolepsy research. Arch Ital Biol. 2001 Apr;139(3):207-20.
Kryger MH, Roth T, Dement WC, editors. Principles and practice of sleep medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2005.