William Charles Dement was born on July 29, 1928 in Wenatchee, Washington, in the northern part of the state and grew up further south in Walla Walla. His father Charles was a tax advisor and accountant, and his mother Kathryn (Severyns) Dement was a housewife.
After serving in the army in post-war Japan where he published a regimental newspaper, he earned a bachelor's degree in medical medicine from the University of Washington at Seattle in 1951. He paid his way as a jazz bass player and organized jam sessions on his houseboat.
Dr. Dement's fascination with sleep began at the medical school at the University of Chicago. He was fascinated by the work of Nathaniel Kleitman, a physiologist who was credited with pioneering sleep work when the field barely existed. Dr. Kleitman and a doctoral student, Eugene Aserinsky, first reported the discovery of rapid eye movement (REM) while sleeping.
Dr. Dement's fascination with sleep grew when Mr. Aserinsky told him what the flickering eye movements meant.
"& # 39; DR. Kleitman and I think these movements could be related to dreams," Dr. Dement recalled to Mr. Aserinsky. "For a student interested in psychiatry, this spontaneous comment was more breathtaking than if it were mine just offered a lottery ticket. "
After joining Dr. Kleitman filmed Dr. Dement topics in REM sleep – a subject that was studied at the university was the future author, director and actress Elaine May – and examined the connection between REM sleep and dreams.
When measuring the brain waves and eye movements of nine sleeping subjects in 1956, Dr. Dement and Dr. Kleitman noted a high frequency of dream memories when the subjects were awakened five to 15 minutes after the start of REM sleep.