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Advances in Health and Medicine

To Sleep, Perchance to Understand

Nearly every living organism sleeps, but the mechanisms underlying sleep remain elusive. Pitt scientists are trying to change that by studying circadian rhythms and sleep-related disorders.

During the 1990s, psychiatry professor Eric Nofzinger studied the limbic system in sleeping patients. He was the first to report that the system—comprising brain structures responsible for controlling various bodily functions—remains active during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in healthy people, but not in those with depression.

A professor in Pitt’s psychology and psychiatry departments, Martica Hall studies stress and sleep. She found that disrupted sleep weakens the immune systems of elderly widows and widowers and that stress-related sleep disturbances can be treated.

Daniel Buysse calls early morning “the sweet spot of sleep,” when adults slumber most deeply. Using EEG tests to measure brain electrical activity, he’s demonstrated that the sleep rhythms of adults in their 20s resemble those of people over 70. Buysse is a professor of psychiatry and Clinical and translation science director at Pitt’s School of Medicine.