A. Sleep Medicine

Alfred Hospital Sleep Laboratory

Collaboration with biomedical engineers and surgeons, building a unique analogue system for recording and analysing sleep in patients who were in hospital for medical and surgical conditions. The first sleep recordings ever made of patients before and after open-heart surgery in an intensive care unit.

Sleep Laboratory, MRC Environmental Physiology Unit, London

Dr Johns set up a new sleep laboratory in London, as part of the MRC Environmental Physiology Unit, based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The main aim was to continue investigations into the relationship between sleep and hormone secretion, and to investigate the relationship between body temperature and sleep, and the nature of insomnia.

Design of a Digital Sleep Recording and Analysis System

A new digital system was designed for recording and analysing people’s sleep overnight in a sleep laboratory (polysomnography). Collaboration with David Burton who formed  Compumedics Pty Ltd to manufacture the new polysomnography system with funding from Epworth Hospital. Compumedics is now listed on the ASX and exports products around the world.

Epworth Sleep Disorders Unit and Epworth Sleep Centre

Dr Johns was the Founding Director of the Sleep Disorders Unit at Epworth Hospital, Melbourne, where he was a full-time private consultant in Sleep Disorders Medicine, retiring in 2002. His self-funded research into sleep and its disorders was carried out in conjunction with his private practice. Dr Johns assembled a team of specialists at Epworth Sleep Centre to deal with the diagnosis and treatment of the whole range of sleep disorders.

Australasian Sleep Association

Dr Johns was a founding member of the Australian Sleep Research Society, as it was called initially in 1988. He has since been elected to the position of life-time Emeritus Member of the Australasian Sleep Association in recognition of his contribution to sleep research and to the clinical practice of sleep medicine.

Epworth Sleepiness Scale

Development and validation of the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS). This is a simple questionnaire that measures a person’s average sleep propensity in daily life. The ESS has become the world standard and has been used in many languages since 1991.  See

Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne

Dr Johns was first appointed as an Adjunct Professor in the School of Biophysical Sciences and Electrical Engineering, Swinburne University, in 1988. That appointment was renewed in the newly formed School of Life and Social Sciences. He is associated there with the Sensory Neuroscience Laboratory.

Invention of a New System of Infrared Oculography and the Johns Drowsiness Scale (JDS) for monitoring drowsiness continuously

Development of a new method (Optalert™) and a scale for measuring drowsiness continuously (the Johns Drowsiness Scale), based on several different characteristics of eye and eyelid movements, made while people are actively engaged in a task such as driving, Optalert ™ includes a special pair of glasses incorporating infrared transducers to measure the amount of IR light reflected from the eye 500 times per second. New variables based on the relative velocity of eyelid movements during blinks were characterised as a measure of drowsiness. Their use in Optalert™ technology use has been patented.

Establishment of Sleep Diagnostics Pty Ltd, now called Optalert Pty Ltd

The Company was set up specifically to develop and commercialize Optalert technology that had been invented initially by Dr Johns as part of his private practice and research in Sleep Medicine.
Exto Partners (Peter Hammond and Will Deane) were engaged to help set up the new Research & Development Company, to raise the necessary capital ( including an R&D-Start grant from the Federal Government)  and to involve private investors. Managers, engineers, scientists and sales people were employed to commercialise Optalert™.
The name of the Company was changed to Optalert Pty Ltd in 2008, so that it more accurately reflected what it does.
Optalert ™ is currently being used by drivers in the road transport and mining industries in Australia, South America and South Africa.
Research is continuing into the development of a new test of fitness for duty. This is concerned with measures that may be predictive of performance impairment due to sleep deprivation as well as the effects of alcohol and drugs.

B. Geology

Member of the Geological Survey of Victoria, Mines Department, Melbourne.
(1958 -1960)

Dr Johns worked mainly on hydrogeology as part of a small team mapping the ground-water resources and regional geology of Victoria, especially in the Murray Basin, North-Western Victoria. He had a special interest in the geochemistry of ground-waters in the Murray Basin and the Otway Basin.

C. Maritime History

Dr Johns has a long-standing interest, as an amateur historian, in the early history of Australia, particularly in the early maritime history of Victoria. This grew out of his work as a geologist in Victoria. Dr Johns is a member of both the Royal Historical Society of Victoria and the Australian Maritime History Association.

He has a special interest in the story of ‘The Mahogany Ship’, a wreck that was discovered to the west of Warrnambool in 1836. Kenneth McIntyre implicated this wreck in his hypothesis that the Portuguese had discovered and mapped much of eastern Australia in the 16thcentury.

Dr Johns was president of The Mahogany Ship Association from to, when the Association was disbanded. It was an informal group of independent researchers, based in Melbourne, who did historical research as well as several geophysical surveys at Warrnambool to try and find the ‘Mahogany Ship’. They did not succeed in finding that elusive wreck.

On the basis of his more recent historical research, Dr Johns has proposed an entirely new hypothesis to explain the ‘Mahogany Ship’ as a product of colonial times, having nothing to do with the 16th century Portuguese, as described in his published reports.