New book, launching tonight, examines the public side of sleep

Kenton Kroker is interested in a good night’s sleep.

As a professor in the Division of Natural Science in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, Kroker has documented the more unusual aspects of sleep in his new book The Sleep of Others.

Tonight, Kroker will launch his book at the Regal Heights Bistro, 1077 St. Clair Ave., West, in downtown Toronto. The event, which starts at 7:30pm and runs until 9:30pm, will feature a musical performance by the group Contact. All are welcome to attend the launch.

The Sleep of Others presents the first ever history of sleep research. In the book, Kroker draws on a wide range of material to present the story of how an investigative field – at one time dominated by the study of dreams – slowly morphed into a laboratory-based discipline. The result of this transformation, Kroker argues, has changed the very meaning of sleep from its earlier conception to an issue for public health and biomedical intervention.

Society regards sleep as a private concern, a night-time retreat from the physical world into the realm of the subconscious. Yet sleep also has a public side; it has been the focal point of religious ritual, philosophic speculation, political debate, psychological research, and more recently, neuroscientific investigation and medical practice.

Examining a vast historical period of 2,500 years, Kroker separates the problems associated with the history of dreaming from those associated with sleep itself and charts sleep-related diseases such as narcolepsy, insomnia, and sleep apnea. He describes the discovery of rapid eye movement – REM – during the 1950s, and shows how this discovery initiated the creation of "dream laboratories" that later emerged as centres for sleep research during the 1960s and 1970s. Kroker’s work is unique in subject and scope and will be enormously useful for both sleep researchers, medical historians, and anybody who’s ever lost a night’s sleep.

The Sleep of Others is published by the University of Toronto Press.