NEW YORK — Peter Hauri, a psychologist who was among the first researchers to study the mysterious mechanics of a good night’s sleep and who established widely used guidelines for avoiding insomnia without drugs, died Jan. 31 in Rochester, Minn., where he had been director of the Mayo Sleep Disorders Center until he retired in 2000. He was 79.
The cause was complications of a brain injury sustained the day before in a fall, a family spokesman said.
Dr. Hauri’s early work included studies of narcolepsy and sleepwalking. He later studied the use of biofeedback in helping people with insomnia to fall asleep, and he measured the relative depths of so-called rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep and non-REM sleep. Those studies established him as part of the first generation of scientists to recognize sleep as an organized physiological process, not a simple ‘‘turning off’’ of the brain.
He was best known, though, for a 1992 book, ‘‘No More Sleepless Nights.’’ Written with Shirley Linde, it outlined some of the practical strategies he had developed for helping people sleep without taking pills.
The book mainly describes a painstaking process of self-
observation and note-taking, followed by behavior modification.
Dr. Hauri said the most important thing he had learned in his research — in sleep lab experiments with volunteers draped in bridal trains of wires and electrodes so he could record the pulsing of their sleeping, or nonsleeping, brains — was that, like snowflakes, every person’s sleeping problem was unique. ‘‘There is no one set of rules that can be mimeographed and given to every patient who comes into the office,’’ he said in a 2010 interview.
Nonetheless, Dr. Hauri devised guidelines that became the standard medical advice of recent decades. Among them was this paradox of insomnia therapy strategies: Never try to sleep. ‘‘The more a person tries to sleep, the more aroused he or she gets,’’ Dr. Hauri said in an interview. Instead, he advised, get out of bed — and leave the bedroom — until sleepiness calls.
Another suggestion: Eliminate the bedroom clock, or turn it to the wall, out of reach. ‘‘There is no scientific proof,’’ Dr. Hauri said in 2010, ‘‘but I’m convinced of that one: Getting rid of the alarm clock works.’’
Peter Johannes Hauri was born in Sirnach, Switzerland, one of six children of Rudolf and Verena Hauri. After graduating from a teachers college, he taught junior high school students in Switzerland for several years until an opportunity arose to study in the United States. In 1960, he received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from North Central College in Naperville, Ill. He studied psychology from 1960 to 1965 at the University of Chicago, where he received his doctorate.
He leaves his wife, Cindy, and their son, Matthew, and a daughter, Heidi Hauri-Gill; a son, David Courard-Hauri; and four grandchildren from a previous marriage.
In the 2010 archive interview, Dr. Hauri was asked what had begun his interest in sleep. He replied with an impish smile, ‘‘My mother was a very famous insomniac.’’ And, he added, ‘‘I don’t sleep so well myself.’’