Rosalind Cartwright: The Queen of Dreams
It was a humorous gesture — a gold paper crown included — when Chicagoan Rosalind D. Cartwright, PhD. was honored with the title, "The Queen of Dreams." While the bestowing occurred years ago at a meeting of the Association for the Study of Dreams in London, Dr. Cartwright’s continuing work on sleep and dreams makes her even more deserving of the symbolic title.
Dr. Cartwright, professor emeritus in the Graduate College of Rush in the Neuroscience Section, is the author of the recently published, The Twenty-four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives. (Oxford University Press, 2010).
This queen’s journey into sleep research began at Cornell University where she received her Ph.D. in psychology. After teaching at Mount Holyoke College, she left to conduct research on the effectiveness of client-centered psychotherapy at the University of Chicago with the eminent psychologist Carl Rogers.
After that, Dr. Cartwright became director of psychology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. While there, she created a sleep laboratory to study the function of dreaming and REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) funded by NSF (National Science Foundation), NIH (National Institute of Health) and NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health).
When asked what sparked her interest in dreams, Dr. Cartwright said, "I was the daughter of a poet who used the imagery of her dreams in her creative work. This usefulness of dreams intrigued me. I was lucky, because when I was ready to investigate what dreams could add to our creativity, researchers had already learned we could capture dreams by having people sleep in a laboratory. In that setting, we could wake them whenever their eyes began to move rapidly. We knew this was a sign they were dreaming."
"The lab gave me the chance to retrieve three, four or five dreams every night and to investigate the differences in how dreams progressed across the night, and how well or poorly our sleepers recalled their dreams the next morning."
While researching dreamers, Dr. Cartwright also became convinced that sleep problems were continuing to plague a growing number of people. So, in 1977, when she was named professor and chairman of the department of psychology at Rush University Medical Center — a position she held for 30 years — she launched a Sleep Disorder Service — the first in Illinois. "The most common complaint patients brought was insomnia," Dr. Cartwright said, "often triggered by an ongoing emotional problem. We learned that this continuing insomnia was a frequent symptom of depression."
"Now, I became curious about the difference in the dreams of those who recovered from depression on their own and those who did not. This started me on a series of studies of people going through a particular emotional problem — divorce. After studying 150 people over a period of years, I discovered that dreams have a specific function: In the healthy person, dreams regulate mood. In some depressed people, the dreams are self-correcting over time, but other people need additional help."
Sleep apnea caught this reseacher’s interest, too. At Rush, Dr. Cartwright assembled a team of neurologists, pulmonologists, and psychologists to treat patients who were experiencing a variety of sleep-related problems. With funding by the Heart, Lung, and Blood Section of NIH, she tested the first oral appliance for the control of snoring and mild sleep apnea. NIH also funded her studies on "positional apnea" for people who snore and stop breathing when sleeping on their back. She trained these sufferers to "side sleep."
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