While You Were Sleeping

Illustrations for TIME by Simon Harris

'I say to my students: We all spend a big chunk of our lives dreaming—we obviously need to do it for some reason.'
—Drew Dawson, Director, Centre for Sleep Research, UNISA

In the field of sleep and dreams, these are promising times. But there's been no year more momentous than 1953. Until then, scientists had equated sleep with flicking off a desk lamp. For more than two decades they'd been able to record brain activity in sleep, but the feeling was, why bother? Why waste reams of costly graph paper making electroencephalogram recordings of what was thought to be a neurological desert? With no strong expectation of finding otherwise, University of Chicago researchers Eugene Aserinski and Nathaniel Kleitman decided it was worth doing, monitoring 10 subjects in a laboratory. Their findings turned...

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