Sleep research pioneer Allan Rechtschaffen passed away Nov. 29, 2021, at the age of 93. Born in New York City in 1927, Dr. Rechtschaffen earned his PhD in clinical psychology from Northwestern University in 1956. As a researcher at the University of Chicago, Rechtschaffen joined other pioneers in the sleep field, including physiologist Nathaniel Kleitman and graduate student Eugene Aserinsky.
In 1963, Rechtschaffen, along with colleagues William Dement and Gerald Vogel, first described narcolepsy in the landmark paper “Nocturnal Sleep of Narcoleptics.” Rechtschaffen went on to become one of the most respected basic and animal sleep investigators. His research included the earliest laboratory studies of insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea and napping, and he was known for his experiments demonstrating the lethal consequences of sleep deprivation in rats. In 1968, Rechtschaffen and Anthony Kales of UCLA developed a standard scoring system for human sleep stages, “A manual of standardized terminology, techniques and scoring system for sleep stages of human subjects,” which was used for nearly four decades until the AASM published The AASM Manual for the Scoring of Sleep and Associated Events in 2007.
Rechtschaffen was a founder of the Association for the Psychophysiological Study of Sleep, which is now the Sleep Research Society (SRS). In 1985, he received the AASM’s Nathaniel Kleitman Distinguished Service Award in honor of his significant contributions to the sleep field. In 2003, Rechtschaffen was recognized at the 17th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS), which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1953 discovery of REM sleep. The other honorees were contemporary sleep research pioneers Kleitman, Dement, Michel Jouvet and Aserinsky.
At the time of his death, Rechtschaffen was professor emeritus in the department of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Chicago. He is survived by his wife, Karen, three daughters, Amy, Katherine and Laura, and four grandchildren.