Sleep Apnea Interviews

Kevin Morton

Kevin Morton is the true definition of a young student whose excitement, passion and dedication for sleep science can change lives in patients with sleep disorders.

You need only a look on his website - End Your Sleep Deprivation - to see the quality of the information about sleep, written by Kevin and his team from Stanford University.

Kevin, sustained by his teacher Dr. William C. Dement and a web design team of Sleep and Dreams students, started his website to, in his words, "help our visitors become more educated about sleep and dreams than 99.9% of the world."

And that's exactly what you'll get at End Your Sleep Deprivation. We thought Kevin's knowledge in sleep disorders might help some of you, so we asked him to sit down with us and answer a few questions.


1. Hi Kevin, thanks for sharing your time with us today. Please introduce yourself to readers who may not be familiar with you, and please use this opportunity to tell us about the website you write for.

Thanks Remy, it's my pleasure. Well, as far as introductions go, I'll start off by saying I'm a second-year student at Stanford University. During my first year here I took a course on Sleep and Dreams taught by Dr. William Dement, who I'm sure we'll talk more about in a bit.

The class itself has quite a fascinating history--it originated out of the protest-heavy years of the late 60s, when sleep research was really starting to pick up steam, and has been taught at Stanford virtually ever since. In fact, the class that is currently going on as we speak is Dr. Dement's 40th go at it. And it has really created quite a reputation for itself over those years--in part for being probably the only class on the planet that gives bonus points for students falling asleep during lecture. They get woken up by a water gun when it happens. It's quite hilarious.

But despite the fun we have in it, the class really runs a lot deeper than that. Sleep is so vitally important to have a working knowledge of, just by the very nature of being something every one of us does for nearly a third of our lives. But also because when something goes wrong with this one third of our lives, whether through a sleep disorder or whatever else, it affects us big time, often more than we realize, in the other two thirds--our waking life. If we have a working knowledge of how sleep works we can recognize when something is going wrong--and they do often go wrong--and then take steps towards addressing it.

Understanding the stakes of this in terms of human health, and even human productivity, really inspired me, you could say, to launch what is now our website, I wanted to use a background I had in web design to provide a platform that not only gets across the importance of these issues, but also provides a way to learn about the science behind them in a way that is fun and accessible to anyone.

2. I see that your Sleep Deprivation website is supported by a great team from Stanford University students, including your teacher, Dr. William C. Dement - the founder of the world's first Sleep Research Center.

For people reading this who have never been interested in sleep deprivation before, could you tell us your personal opinion about Dr. William C. Dement?

Dr. Dement is truly one of the most interesting people I've had the pleasure of meeting. His reputation precedes him now, clearly, with all he's done for sleep medicine and the field of sleep science in general, but his personality kind of post-cedes him even more, if that makes sense. The room is always kind of left with a resonating feeling when he leaves it--whether from stunned silence in response something he said or uproarious laughter from one of his comments or stories.

It's funny, as students of his we sometimes joke that in a 50 minute class session of Sleep and Dreams we'll sometimes actually be talking about sleep for maybe 15 minutes, while the other 35 minutes he spends talking about various stories from throughout his life, sometimes half-related and sometimes not--just whatever comes to his mind really. Like I said, he's been teaching the class for 40 years and I think this is really one of the ways he keeps it interesting for himself. But as a student this can actually be one of the joys of being in the course. He's been through so much and it's a pleasure just to soak some of that up.

I also feel very fortunate that he's embraced this website as another way to spread his life's message, of encouraging people to know their limits when it comes to fatigue, and how the processes that govern how tired we are actually work. He recently wrote to a number of his colleagues regarding the formation of an advisory board for the site as well, so we'll likely have even a few more prominent names in the field overseeing the site in the near future.

3. You write for your website with a lot passion and energy. The students from your team have different projects about sleep and sleep disorders every year. It is wonderful to see that college students and teenagers are interested to spread the knowledge that exists about sleep disorders.

What drove you to specialize in this "sleep niche" and when was the first time that you were confronted with a real case of sleep disorder?

Well, you highlight something very important about the Sleep and Dreams class in that it gets college students talking about sleep health, and the repercussions of bad sleep health, at a time when it could hardly be more important in their lives. We college students are somewhat infamous as a group for our lack of sleep. In fact, that reminds me of a funny picture I'm actually planning on putting on the site soon that says "Welcome to college. Good grades, social life, sleep--Pick two." The pressures and lifestyles of our age group just makes it all the more important that we continue to do what we do.

I guess that's in large part what drives me in the work that I do on End Your Sleep Deprivation. Sleep research itself is also such a young field. Dr. Dement's mentor, Nathaniel Kleitman, was really the first one to start to study sleep formally, and that was really not more than a handful of decades ago. It's amazing that in the thousands of years that humans have been sleeping we haven't had previous documented discoveries of things like REM sleep and the like before then, so there's a lot of excitement now and in the recent past with the pace in which sleep-related discoveries are being made.

But at the same time, there's a huge disconnect between what we have learned about sleep in the last hundred years and what the general public knows about this stuff. There are still millions of people who suffer from undiagnosed and untreated sleep disorders, sleep apnea in particular, as you know, and it's really due in large part, unfortunately, to this lack of knowledge. So there's a gap to be bridged in terms of the information we have and the information out there, and that's what gets me excited about doing what we're doing in the class and on the website.

4. I was amazed by your Outreach Projects in which the Stanford students in the university's Sleep and Dream class create projects to tell other about sleep disorders. I never imagined that you can teach others about sleep deprivation through parody.

In general, sleep deprived persons are depressed, unhappy. This is a good way to color their life and teach them about their sleep problems. How did you and your team come up with these ideas?

Well, all of the Outreach Projects you see on the site are student-made projects for the class. So basically we say, "Your job is to take what you've learned about sleep and share it with as many people as possible. Go." And the class gets a ton of cool projects every single year, from students who go into local high schools and teach about sleep debt and sleep disorders, to students who write articles for various newspaper publications. One student last year even wrote a letter to freshly-elected President Obama about the use of sleep deprivation as an interrogation method. The variety of things people come up with is phenomenal.

Yeah, but like you say, the videos are often some of the most entertaining and effective projects we get back. It's amazing what the creativity and editing skills of a few college students can turn up, and it's a pleasure to be able to show them off on the site now. The class has always had a video screening for some of the best films each year as part of a sort of grand finale class, but that's really virtually the extent of screen time they have had up until now. With their display on the website, as well as some social media things I've got planned for them, I hope to really take their distribution to another level.

And, in fact, it's already beginning to have an impact. I got a nice comment a few months back from a woman who runs a sleep clinic in New Zealand who had been using some of the videos to educate her younger patients. She said she loved how much fun they were to learn with compared to some of the other text-based stuff that little kids wouldn't relate to as well. After putting so much work into the site, it's things like that that are awesome to hear.

5. Stanford University Center of Excellence for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Sleep Disorders is one of the world's leading research institutions in the field of sleep medicine. This makes me think that you are in touch with the latest news about treatments for sleep disorders.

We all know that CPAP therapy is difficult to tolerate in patients with sleep apnea. Could you tell us if there is a hope in the future for these patients to benefit from a new type of treatment, better than a CPAP?

Well, there are definitely people who could answer this question a lot better than I could in terms of any possible future treatment for sleep apnea. I don't know of any myself. But I'll tell you what, the CPAP has worked wonders for countless people since its invention, and has no doubt prolonged the lives of thousands and thousands of people who would otherwise be at extreme risk for heart problems and fatigue-related accidents.

The beauty of treating sleep apnea as effectively as the CPAP does lies too in the fact that most people with the condition also have a bed partner whose sleep is also heavily compromised because of the snoring. Thus, when you use a CPAP you're really alleviating the sleep problems of both the patient and his or her bed partner. Dr. Dement likes to call this the two-for-one effect.

But you're certainly right that some people don't tolerate the machines very well. Some find it hard to sleep with the attachments on. But I'll tell you what, compared to waking up 200 times throughout the night due to near suffocation where the oxygen saturation of your body is at a point where your brain cells and heart are at risk, the inconvenience of the mask may not be such a bad thing after all. The problem is though, that most people with apnea don't realize that is happening to them each and every night that they are untreated. But when patients think of it this way, it provides a lot more incentive to learn to accommodate the mask. 

6. Kevin, thanks again for taking time out to speak with us. For our last question, please tell us what are your future plans related to the science of sleep, after college graduation. We wish you continued success in bringing knowledge about sleep disorders in your community and everywhere in the world.

I really can't say too much when it comes to future endeavors in the field, as I'm not quite sure myself. Right now though I'm thoroughly enjoying trying to make End Your Sleep Deprivation as fun and informative of a platform as possible. The students and the class of Sleep and Dreams really bring so much to the table, information that hasn't fully been tapped into when it comes to getting it out there on the Web. So I'll be content for now with figuring out how to do that in the most effective way.

In regards to your thanks, it was my pleasure Remy. My best to you and your visitors.

We want to send a huge "Thank You" to Kevin Morton again for taking the time out to speak with us at Sleep Apnea Guide. We hope he has given you some valuable insights into sleep disorders and perhaps his story will inspire you to take that next big step in changing your quality of life.

Be sure to check out Kevin's website at End Your Sleep Deprivation home page, and his Outreach Projects.

› Interview with Kevin Morton
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