Technion’s new campuses a dream come true for sleep guru

When Israel’s oldest university was launched in 1912 as the “Technikum,” most of the professors there wanted German to be the language of instruction.

But Hebrew won the war of the languages, and it maintains its dominance on the Haifa campus, which these days also offers instruction in Russian, French and English.

Peretz Lavie

Now, as the Technion Israel Institute of Technology expands into New York and China, a more peaceful “war of languages” has come into play, and this time, the winner on the new campuses is English.

“English is the language of science,” Peretz Lavie, the Technion’s 16th president, said during a recent talk to American Technion Society supporters and Silicon Valley scientists.

Lavie spoke earlier this month at Mountain View’s Computer History Museum, a week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gov. Jerry Brown shook hands on a tech deal at the same location.

During the talk, museum president and CEO John Hollar traced Technion’s history — from its beginnings under the Ottoman Empire to its transformation into what he called “the engine behind a startup nation.”

The Technion has propelled Israel from “stones to semiconductors,” Hollar added.

Much of Lavie’s talk focused on his excitement over two new Technion developments. The Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute on Roosevelt Island in New York City’s East River is slated to open in 2017.

And in southwestern China, the institute is developing the Technion Guangdong Institute of Technology in partnership with Shantou University and the Li Ka Shing Foundation.

Lavie, a pioneering sleep researcher, is the Technion’s first president to specialize in the life sciences. In 1975, the year he joined the faculty, he founded the university’s Sleep Research Laboratory and the Center for Sleep Medicine — long before sleep medicine became a recognized field.

Artist’s rendition of the New York City campus of the Technion, located on Roosevelt Island photo/courtesy new york city mayor’s office

Lavie called the 1969 launch of the university’s faculty of medicine a “milestone” that made it possible for a sleep specialist to one day become Technion’s president.

“In the future,” he said, “medicine and technology will be walking hand in hand.” He also said he foresees increasing collaboration between the fields of electrical engineering and computer science.

Lavie has published more than 400 scientific articles and eight books on sleep research and sleep disorders. One of his books, “The Enchanted World of Sleep,” has been translated into 15 languages.

One of his many studies examined the trauma of Israeli Holocaust survivors by studying their sleep patterns. The results were surprising. The “super-adjusted” survivors, those who were not preoccupied with past traumas, had a 33.7 percent dream-recall rate, while those who appeared more traumatized had a 50.5 percent dream recall rate. In addition, they were far more likely to have nightmares.

While the second-generation may have blamed their parents for not sharing their experiences during the Holocaust, what the children don’t realize is “that this was a [survivor’s] defense mechanism,” he said. The study seems to conclude that “in order to survive tremendous trauma, one must suppress dreams of memories. … I must say, the psychiatrists weren’t happy with us.”

Subsequent studies with firefighters who had traumatic patterns and sleep disorders in reaction to 9/11 bore out those findings, he said. “The firefighters who were debriefed suffered more” because that kept the experiences alive, Lavie said. “Those with less recall were better off.”

Of course, not much is better than a good night’s sleep accompanied by sweet dreams. Just ask the students from Meira Academy, an all-girls Orthodox high school in Palo Alto. The school’s 19 students met Lavie and his wife, Lena, after the talk and posed for photo.

Six of them said they want to be scientists. Others had more immediate yearnings. “We like sleep,” the teens said in unison.

Peretz Lavie’s key findings on sleep

• People have a “Sleep Gate,” very specific optimal times for going to sleep. It’s a narrow window during which the brain can easily make the wake-to-sleep transition.

• Most people don’t obey their “Sleep Gate.”

• Our most alert time of the day occurs in the two hours prior to the “Sleep Gate.”

• Males with sleep apnea (improper breathing) produce lower levels of testosterone, resulting in decreased libido and sexual activity.

• Men ages 20-29 with severe sleep apnea have 10 times the risk of dying from heart-related ailments than other men their age.

• Most victims of trauma do not suffer from insomnia. They often confuse their fear of going to sleep with an inability to fall asleep.

Some of his suggestions for a good night’s sleep:

• Do not smoke, exercise or eat heavy meals before going to bed.

• Keep your sleep/wake schedule constant.

• Create a good sleep environment. Shade out morning sun and don’t use ticking clocks.

Source: American Technion Society (

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is writing a memoir on her late-life romance. She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].