In Memoriam: Richard P. Allen (1938-2020)

>>View Richard Allen’s Obituary

December 10, 2020: It is with great sadness we announce the passing of a grand clinician-scientist in sleep medicine & research: Richard P. Allen, PhD. On December 9, 2020, Dr. Allen passed away peacefully with his wife and children by his side. Dr. Allen dedicated the last 30 years to sleep medicine and in particular for the last 20 years to developing the field of movement disorders in sleep and in particular the Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and period leg movements in sleep (PLMS). Dr. Allen’s family asks that memorial donations are made to both the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation’s Allen Fund (RLSF) and International RLS Study Group (IRLSSG).

Dr. Allen was instrumental in building and fortifying RLS research. Drs. Richard Allen and Christopher J. Earley established and co-directed The Johns Hopkins Center for Restless Legs Syndrome, located at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. He also served as Chair of the medical advisory board for the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation and International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group. Additionally, he was the President of the World Association of Sleep Medicine (now World Sleep Society). Dr. Allen received a bachelors degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and his doctorate in psychology from the University of Cambridge, Cambridge England. He chaired the NIH-RLSF workshop that produced the current diagnostic standard for RLS and has produced clinical standards for RLS diagnoses and evaluation currently used in most RLS clinical trials. He was also a senior editor of the primary text on Movement Disorders in Sleep and a senior field editor for the major international journal for sleep, Sleep Medicine.

In his over 200 peer-reviewed articles, Dr. Allen was a world-renowned sleep expert who published on the topics of sleep-disorders including pioneering work on RLS augmentation, dopamine and IV iron RLS treatments, the iron-dopamine, the iron-glutamate abnormalities of RLS and PLMs. His significant contributions to the field earned him the Sleep Research Society Outstanding Sleep and Circadian Scientist Award in 2020. He was instrumental in the field. He will be missed.

**Correction: We earlier reported inaccurately that Dr. Allen was credited with the discovery of cyclic alternating pattern, which was in error. 

29 April 2022 Update: An endowed lectureship in Dr. Allen’s name is being established at Johns Hopkins, where Dr. Allen got his start and carried out his pioneering work. The Richard P. Allen Endowed Lectureship in Sleep and Circadian Rhythms will support the keynote lecture at the annual Johns Hopkins Sleep & Circadian Research Day, an annual event that invites researchers to present their work and that encourages the career development of trainees. You can learn more about the endowment and contribute securely here:


Tributes from the Sleep Medicine Community


This picture is of Richard standing next to Dr. Fernando Miranda (Neurology) and pointing to the new Grass Polysomnogram Recording System. The date is September 7, 1977. The place is the new Sleep Center in Neurology at Baltimore City Hospital. The picture was taken for a news article that ran in the Baltimore Sun entitled, From Sleepwalking to Nightmares.

Dr. Christopher J. Earley


With Richard, we have lost not only a dear friend, a wonderful colleague, but the heart of the RLS science for many years. Richard was the person who would always come up with a clear scientific and clinical approach in the many fields of RLS research–especially on iron metabolism. We will deeply miss him.

Dr. Claudia Trenkwalder


Richard was both a colleague and friend to many in the sleep field, and particularly to RLS researchers. He led or contributed, directly or indirectly, to every important project on RLS in the past 25 years. We will greatly miss his quiet strength, his tenacity and honesty, and his clarity of mind. Our hearts go out to Robbie and his children.

Dr. John Winkelman


We lost a true giant in the field of RLS, and a dear friend, Richard Allen. Without his visionary research, the field of RLS would not be where it stands now. Richard Allen was a brilliant researcher, and indefatigable teacher for decades teacher to generations of specialists, mentor and friend. He was a founding member of the international RLS study group and World Association of Sleep Medicine, and president of both and so was determinant in building structures for joint scientific cooperation and dissemination of knowledge. For myself, Richard was an anchor person and mentor since my first sleep and irlssg meetings in the mid nineties–and a matchless example for all the time. My thoughts are with his wife Robbie, who took the burden to travel to the most remote places where Richard was invited to teach, and with his family.

Prof Dr. Birgit Högl


I first met Dr. Richard Allen in the late 1990s when we started collaborating on several Restless Legs Syndrome/Willis-Ekbom Disease (RLS/WED) research studies. However, I really started to closely work with him starting in 2012 when Richard, Claudia Trenkwalder, Colin Espie, Allan O’Bryan, Anthony Williams, and me met every few weeks for a 5-year period, first as members of the World Association of Sleep Medicine (WASM)-World Sleep Federation (WSF) Merger Task Force and then as members of the the joint WASM-WSF Organizing Committee.

As many know, Richard was a pioneer in the RLS/WED field, and his name would inevitably come up whenever an RLS/WED-related research study, manuscript, guideline, or conference was being planned or discussed. He was admired by many for his scientific acumen and keen wit, which undoubtedly contributed to his towering reputation in the field. I recall him once saying about new findings from a research study: “I could easily write that up in a day.” And sure enough, he did! Richard could also effortlessly analyze a research study design, pinpointing what should be included and what was irrelevant, and would discuss his points concisely in a thoughtful, persuasive, and respectful manner. Importantly, Richard always stood up for his scientific beliefs, which were based on his decades of experience. If he felt strongly about a component of a research study or a section of a manuscript, he would choose not to be included rather than compromising his scientific integrity. This was one of his most admirable qualities, and it is a testament to his standing and experience in the field that invariably when these situations arose, his recommendations were accepted without hesitation. Richard was also loyal to a fault, and enjoyed warm relationships with many of his colleagues. This was especially true regarding the late Dr. Wayne Hening; Richard would often share amusing anecdotes and his fond memories of Wayne. Lastly, there was an inherent kindness and gentlemanly nature to Richard, and, when combined with all his other estimable characteristics, his passing is not only a loss for the sleep field but also for all the trainees in the field who sadly will not be privileged to know and learn from him.

Dr. Clete Kushida


Richard Allen played a key role in almost every aspect of the development of RLS over the last decades. His knowledge of the field was incredible, covering both clinical and basic science aspects. He motivated many young researchers and clinicians from all over the world to initiate their work into a hitherto neglected condition.  He will be dearly missed by his many friends from across the world.

Dr. Diego Garcia Borreguero


Our community loss a friend, clinician, scientist, researcher, mentor and father. Richard was a dear friend – someone who always looked at accomplishing goals while sharpening the processes through his viewpoints and experiences. I will always remember our time in Walla Walla, Washington waiting for Dr. Dement for our 8am breakfast meeting–with Richard explaining to me, “Bill doesn’t use an alarm clock, but he will be here right at 8am.” Sure enough, he was. And our time in Valencia mapping out a five-year strategic plan. He always believed in what could be done and simply said, “Make it happen.” He never lost at the roulette wheel, simply betting $10 (enough for dinner) and doubling if he lost and walking away after winning once. We will remember you at our young investigator talks, think about you when developing research study designs, and miss you at our annual IRLSSG dinner. “Hamakom y’nachem etchem b’toch sh’ar availai tziyon ee yerushalayim.” May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Allan O’Bryan, Executive Director, World Sleep Society


We are deeply saddened to learn of Dr. Allen’s passing. Dr. Allen’s scientific contributions to the field have led to advancements in standards of care and clinical outcomes for the millions of men, women and children living with RLS. The RLS community will miss you.

Karla Dzienkowski, Executive Director of RLS Foundation

Drs. Allen & Hening in 2006 in San Diego


Drs. Allen & Kushida with Allan O’Bryan



Richard Allen at Oktoberfest 2006 with Wayne Hening




Richard Allen Memorial | December 10, 2020 | RLS Foundation

The RLS community has lost a giant in the field of Sleep Medicine and RLS research, Dr. Richard Allen.

Richard Allen, PhD, was a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He founded and served as the co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Restless Legs Syndrome, one of the Foundation’s certified RLS Quality Care Centers. Dr. Allen was a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and founder of the International Restless Legs Study Group (IRLSSG).

In his dual roles as a clinician and researcher, he dedicated his life’s work to RLS education, management, and treatment. He was instrumental in creating the RLS diagnostic criteria and rating scales for use in clinical and research settings, using consensus guidelines to provide state of the art care to RLS patients.

Research is an active part of the sleep medicine program at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Allen authored or co-authored 661 peer-reviewed RLS journal articles that include the consensus guidelines for the iron treatment of RLS, prevention and treatment of dopaminergic augmentation, genetics, and the RLS glutamate relationship. He authored book chapters, and editorials, as well as chairing NIH sections and symposiums on RLS.

RLS Foundation Executive Director, Karla Dzienkowski spoke of his importance to the field. “Dr. Allen was the leading expert in the field of RLS. He was respected and admired by his peers, who relied on his insight as a researcher and clinician. We will all miss him, especially the patients who were the recipients of his outstanding care.”

Dr. Allen served as Chair of the Foundation’s Medical Advisory Board during 1998 to 2000, served on that Board through 2008, and made significant contributions to the RLS Foundation. In 2000, he received the Foundation’s Ekbom Award, the highest award given to an individual who has enhanced the lives of those living with the disease.