A Brief History of Sleep

facts about sleeping

Compared to other widely-studied human behaviors, sleep has been a rather misunderstood phenomenon over the course of human history. Not until recently have humans attempted to understand how and why we sleep. As recent as the 19th century, physicians believed that sleep was caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain. Plato theorized that sleep was caused by vapors rising from the stomach and up through the body until they eventually clogged the pores of the brain, causing people to fall asleep.

As time has marched on people have gained a much wider understanding of why we sleep, dream and, most importantly, how to do so comfortably. To show our readers how we’ve arrived at this point, here’s a brief timeline of sleep history:

  • 10,000 years ago – People began sleeping on primitive versions of the modern bed. Although it hasn’t been proven by science, the first bed was most likely created by an ancestor of our own Larry Miller.
  • 1180 – Philosopher-physician Moses Maimonides argued that nocturnal sleep compromising 1/3 of the 24-hour day cycle was sufficient for humans.
  • 1729 – Wondering whether sleep cycles were governed by an internal clock or the external environment imposing its will on the body, Jean Jacques d’Ortuous de Marian put some plants in dark rooms for several days. Even without sunlight, these specimens (which normally open their leaves by day and close them at night) continued their daily ritual. Marian concluded circadian rhythms persist without environmental cues.
  • 1899 – Sigmund Freud publishes The Interpretation of Dreams in which he introduces the theory of the unconscious with respect to dream interpretation
  • 1913 – A book entitled, Le probleme physiologique du sommeil by French scientist Henri Pieron was the first to examine sleep from a physiological perspective.
  • 1924 – Hans Berger, a German psychiatrist, became the first to record the human brain’s EEG (electro-encephalogram) waves, and noticed there are different patterns between sleeping and awake brains.
  • 1968 – Two researchers, Anthony Kales and Allan Rechschaffen, published the first manual on how to score sleep stages. They found there was one phase of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and four non-REM phases.
  • 1973 – Research conducted at Stanford University on a colony of narcoleptic Doberman Pinschers led to the discovery of a hypocretin/orexin mutation which broadened our understanding of the causes of narcolepsy.
  • 1978 – Larry Miller opens his first Sit ‘n Sleep store selling futons imported from Japan in Culver City, CA.