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Melissa Begay - Sleep Doctor

Updated: Mar 6




Meet Dr. Melissa Begay

New Mexico VA Sleep Center,

Professor at University of New Mexico Medical School


Her Work

Helping people who can’t sleep





You have probably had a night when you tossed and turned and couldn’t sleep. Remember how groggy and cranky you felt the next day? Some people have trouble sleeping all the time. It can cause health problems. It can cause emotional problems. Melissa Begay is a physician who helps those people find out why they can’t sleep. She helps them wake up with a smile, full of energy to do the things they love to do.


Listening to her patients is important part of her work. She needs understand the problem first. Then she can use the EEG (electroencephalogram) to explore further. It records electrical activity in your brain. The EEG tells when someone is awake, when they are asleep, and when they are dreaming. Dreaming helps your brain store important memories or emotions. We feel better after a good night’s sleep. That makes people around us happier. Even our pets are happier.

EEG's detect brain waves
Electrical activity of a patient’s brain over time

Today Melissa is proud of her work helping people change their lives. She wanted to be a doctor since she was a child, growing up on the Navajo Reservation in Northern Arizona.


"Don’t let it stop you if you don’t see people like you in the field you want to study. You can be the first.”

Her granparents were ranchers and had many sheep. .

When her grandparents butchered the sheep they had raised, they would teach her about the body parts. She was fascinated. But she never saw a doctor who looked like her or who spoke her Navajo language. She wanted to change that.


Medical School held an extra challenge for Melissa. Anatomy class. In her culture it is taboo to touch dead bodies. Melissa had to find mentors and elders to help her find her way. Now she can be a role model to younger students.



Melissa wants to help others break barriers like she did when she became a physician. She says, “Make sure you ask a lot of questions when you are uncertain. Many people are also having the same questions, the same fears. Find mentors and people who will support you.”


Melissa's work getting masks, sanitizers, and supplies to the Navajo Nation during the covid-19 pandemic earned her the title of "Hometown Hero" in New Mexico. She is a role model to all of us who want to push forward, but never leave sight of our roots.



Photo Credits

Photo of Melissa Begay: permission by University of New Mexico Alumni Association

Photo of EEG patient: This Photo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

Photo of EEG reading: This Photo is licensed under CC BY-SA







Read these books or ask your librarian to help you find other books on the topic . . .



Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World

by Rachel Ignotofsky

A charmingly illustrated and educational book, New York Times best seller Women in Science highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the ancient to the modern world. Full of striking, singular art, this fascinating collection also contains infographics about relevant topics such as lab equipment, rates of women currently working in STEM fields, and an illustrated scientific glossary. The trailblazing women profiled include well-known figures like primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon.


Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists, and more!


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Trailblazers: 33 Women in Science Who Changed the World

by Rachel Swaby

Florence Nightingale. Sally Ride. Ada Lovelace. These names and others are etched in history and included here as part of an awe-inspiring collection of profiles of thirty-three of the most influential women in science—women whose vision, creativity, passion, and dedication have changed the world.


Covering important advancements made by women in fields such as biology, medicine, astronomy, and technology, author Rachel Swaby explains that people aren’t born brilliant scientists. They observe and experiment as kids and as adults, testing ideas again and again, each time learning something new.



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... and visit these websites to learn about sleep.






The Brain: Why do we sleep? video from PBS








The Atlantic Magazine: How the Animal Kingdom Sleeps








Watch Bill Nye Explain How We Dream With Emojis

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