Ian Oswald, 1929-2012

May 31, 2012

One of the world's leading experts on sleep has died.

Ian Oswald was born in London on 4 August 1929. He was educated in the capital and at the Herbert Strutt grammar school in Belper, Derbyshire - where his father worked as an aeronautical engineer for Rolls-Royce - before gaining a scholarship to study medicine at the University of Cambridge.

Despite his passion for acting and cross-country running, Professor Oswald emerged with a first-class honours degree in psychology, before moving to Bristol to complete the clinical part of his studies.

Once qualified, Professor Oswald did his national service in the medical branch of the RAF. His duties included performing electroencephalography (EEG) on airmen, recording their brains' electrical activity to test for a propensity to conditions such as epileptic fits, little realising that this technique would later form one of the cornerstones for his research on sleep.

A two-year research fellowship at the University of Oxford marked the start of Professor Oswald's academic career, but in 1959 he moved to the University of Edinburgh as a lecturer in psychological medicine, securing a personal professorship in 1977.

He was to remain in Edinburgh until he retired in 1989, although this included a period of leave from 1965 to 1967 when he worked as professor of psychiatry at the University of Western Australia, setting up a new department within the medical school.

During his time at Edinburgh, Professor Oswald was awarded the Royal Medico-Psychological Association's Gaskell Medal and Prize and gained wide recognition as an expert on sleep. He also wrote a number of academic and more popular books: Sleeping and Waking: Physiology and Psychology (1962), Sleep (1966) and Get a Better Night's Sleep (1983).

The last of these was co-authored by Kirstine Adam, who in 1973 responded to an advertisement in the university's staff magazine for a research assistant role.

She took on much of the responsibility for organising the International Sleep Research Congress in Edinburgh in 1975 and eventually became Professor Oswald's second wife.

His children were also frequently asked to lend a hand during conferences and in the sleep lab.

Plans for a happy retirement had to be put on hold for several years when a pharmaceutical firm in the US sued him for libel on the basis of research he had carried out indicating that a sleeping drug could have an adverse impact on mental health.

Professor Oswald died on 25 April of an autoimmune disorder of the nervous system. He is survived by his wife, and by four children from his earlier marriage.


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