Chicago Deserves Title of Sleep Capital of the World

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Author and scientist suggests new honor for her hometown

Chicago has been crowned, “The Blues Capital of the World.” Also, “The Toy Capital of the World.” And sweetly, “The Candy Capital of the World.”

Now, Rosalind D. Cartwright, PhD., author of “The Twenty-Four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives” (Oxford University Press 2010), is suggesting another Capital for Chicago, "Sleep Capital of the World."

Dr. Cartwright, professor emeritus in the Graduate College of Rush’s Neuroscience Section, was the founder of Illinois' first Sleep Disorder Service and Research Center, and one of the first such facilities in the United States.

"The University of Chicago gets credit for our city’s newest honor," Dr. Cartwright claims, "because in the 1950’s it trained my generation of sleep researchers."

Scientists from that institution who are considered groundbreakers include Nathaniel Kleitman who discovered REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, Bill Dement who hit upon the connection of REM to dreaming and Allan Rechtschaffen who established that sleep was necessary for life. Of that group, Dr. Cartwright was one of the few who continued to work at understanding the function of dreaming.

Likely due to that early team at the University of Chicago, plus Cartwright’s ongoing research and writing on the subject, today there are more than 50 facilities in Illinois for the diagnosis and treatment of the more than 80 disorders of sleep.

Dr. Cartwright’s scientific curiosity in sleep began while working at the University of Chicago in the 1950s. She eventually moved to the University of Illinois Medical College, and as director of psychology, opened her first sleep laboratory there in 1963. Later, she opened a second sleep laboratory at the University of Illinois Chicago’s Department of Psychology.

After moving on to Rush University Medical Center, Dr. Cartwright opened a laboratory and patient care service with a multidisciplinary team of neurologists, pulmonologists, and psychologists in 1978. An innovative clinician and researcher who always looked for simple solutions that were patient-friendly, Dr. Cartwright worked on the first oral appliance for the control of snoring and mild sleep apnea funded by the Heart, Lung, and Blood Section of the National Institute Health (NIH).

NIH also funded her studies on "positional apnea" for people who snore and stop breathing primarily when sleeping on their back. Dr. Cartwright's treatment was to train them to "side sleep." This involved no surgery, no CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) equipment, “just a tee shirt with a pocket down the back to hold three tennis balls. It was sold for $10 -- the cheapest treatment in the world,” she explained.

Dr. Cartwright's continuing interest in incidents of sleep-related violence and sexual behavior, depression, and dreaming propelled her to write her new book. In "The Twenty-four Hour Mind," she brings together decades of research into the bizarre sleep disorders known as parasomnias to propose a new theory of how the human mind works consistently throughout waking and sleeping hours.

"Thanks to increasingly sophisticated EEG and brain imaging technologies, we now know that our minds do not simply "turn off" during sleep," Dr. Cartwright says.

"Rather, our minds continue to be active, and Dr. Cartwright's research has indicated that one of the primary purposes of sleep is to aid in regulating emotions and processing experiences that occur during preceding waking hours. As such, when sleep is neurologically or genetically impaired or just too short, the processes that good sleep facilitates -- those that usually have a positive effect on our mood and performance -- can short circuit, with negative results that occasionally reach tragic proportions.

It’s these “tragic proportions” that make “The Twenty-four Hour Mind” such a fascinating read, for in it Dr. Cartwright describes several sleepwalking cases in which she served as expert witness for the defense: the Scott Falater Case, aka The Pool Pump Murder, the Ken Parks case, and the Good Neighbor trial in downstate Illinois.

Cartwright explains, “True sleepwalkers are not in a conscious state at the time and so not responsible in legal terms for their crimes. Their brains are in a half asleep and half awake state. One clear finding from the brain scan of a sleepwalker is that although the visual system is working, they can find their way and do complicated acts. But, they cannot recognize faces, even of loved ones. That area of the brain is still fast asleep. It is this non-conscious state that the public is not used to and is hard for juries to understand.”

“The Twenty-four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in our Emotional Lives” is available through Dr. Cartwright’s website,, or at


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Elaine Soloway

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