School of Medicine’s ‘Tica’ Hall was ‘driven to help everyone around her’

Martica “Tica” Hall, a leading expert on sleep and circadian science as professor of psychiatry, psychology, and clinical and translational science in the School of Medicine, died March 18, 2023.

Daniel Buysse recalls meeting Hall when she was a graduate student here in 1994. She later became his colleague and long-time collaborator, co-directing psychiatry’s training program in sleep medicine, working as co-investigators on numerous other grants and co-authoring more than 125 papers.

“She essentially lived in the lab for her dissertation study, which still stands as one of the best examples of experimental stress effects on sleep,” said Buysse (distinguished professor of psychiatry, clinical and translational science, and medicine and UPMC Endowed Chair in Sleep Medicine) at Hall’s recent memorial service. He highlighted her elections as president of both the American Psychosomatic Society and the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research and her service on the Sleep Research Society’s board of directors.

“In these roles, Tica did what she loved: Planned and executed scientific meetings that brought together investigators from diverse disciplines — stress, sleep, circadian rhythms, health, disparities. Tica paid attention to what was happening in science, identified where the gaps were, and built bridges between people to make that science better. She is widely credited in each of these organizations with bringing sleep to behavioral medicine and vice versa. And at every step of the way, Tica found ways to support trainees.”

Interactions with Hall “encouraged her younger colleagues and shared her astonishment and fascination with science,” Buysse said.

During the past seven years, Hall and Buysse ran a weekly seminar for sleep and circadian science trainees at the University. Hall also established the Sleep and Circadian Workshop in Indispensable Methods to offer a brief training course to underrepresented trainees and those from institutions with fewer resources.

After joining Pitt’s faculty in psychiatry in 1998, she published more than 230 peer-reviewed papers and 15 invited publications, and presented dozens of invited, keynote and distinguished scientist talks locally, nationally and internationally. She received more than 40 funded grants and mentored about 75 trainees.

Psychiatry department chair David A. Lewis recalls Hall as “a superb scientist, dedicated mentor and excellent teacher.” He met Hall when, as a post-doc, she took his class on translational neuroscience. “She was passionate then about promoting and provoking the best discussions among the members of the class, and she carried that same enthusiasm into her many years of outstanding service and contributions to our department. Her accomplishments as a scientist and teacher were appropriately recognized by the highest honors in her field. She was a consummate colleague to those who had the opportunity to work with her.

Psychiatry colleague Beatriz Luna remembers speaking with Hall at 9 a.m. some days and being told, “Oh yeah, I just got home,” as Hall had been working all night on a paper, a grant, or a mentoring plan for students. Luna describes Hall as “passionate and never, ever giving up. Tica was just inherently driven to help everyone around her: ‘No, we’re going to make this happen.’ She led not only her own grant but big, collaborative program grants that really led the science into new areas.” Hall, she said, was “just a really remarkable individual who stood above most of the people you know, not just for her brilliance, but for her caring nature.”

Born in San Tomé, Venezuela, Hall earned a bachelor of arts in psychology from the University of Memphis in 1989 and a master of science   in medical psychology from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. in 1993. She was awarded her Ph.D. from Pitt in biopsychology two years later.

She received her second appointment at Pitt, in psychology, in 2005, and then in the Clinical and Translational Science Institute in 2007. She became director of the data management core in Medicine’s Sleep and Chronobiology Center in 2012, co-director of the Translational Research Training in Sleep and Circadian Science in 2014 and co-director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Science in 2016.

“Hall’s research incorporated both behavioral medicine and sleep medicine, and she was a leading force in the integration of these two fields,” her department noted in a tribute. “She introduced sleep and circadian rhythms as mechanisms and moderators of health in their own right, as well as in combination with other behavioral factors, and conducted pioneering work examining heart rate variability during both sleep and wakefulness. For many years, sleep medicine focused on disorders (such as sleep apnea) in relation to disease risk, but Dr. Hall’s work contributed to the recognition that other characteristics of sleep (such as duration and timing) could play a comparably important role in health outcomes. Her most recent research included a National Institute on Aging grant examining whether disturbed sleep, as measured by poor multidimensional sleep health, augments the effects of depression on biological aging.”

She was honored with the American Psychosomatic Society Distinguished Scientist Award in 2022, and the society presented her its first annual Martica Hall Award in Sleep Medicine. She was chair of the National Institutes of Health’s Biobehavioral Mechanisms of Emotion, Stress and Health study section and of its Mechanisms and Consequences of Sleep Disparities study section, and of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities Center for Scientific Review Special Emphasis Panel.

She also received many mentorship awards including the Academy of Behavioral Medicine’s Research Mentor Award, the Sleep Research Society’s Mary A. Carskadon Outstanding Educator Award and the Department of Psychiatry’s Outstanding Mentor Award.

“She was one of the very few people who was a member of the graduate faculty of the psychology department,” recalls Hall’s colleague Meryl Butters, “because she cared so deeply about educating Pitt graduate students in psychology. It’s an honor. She was very proud of it. She was fully invested in Pitt as a research university, beyond the medical school.

“Anything she took on she made sure that she finished one-hundred percent, much more than the average person.”

That included Hall’s diagnosis of breast cancer, Butters said. Hall joined a then-new local group of breast cancer “thrivers and survivors,” 412Thrive, in 2020. “These women looked up to her and how she was handling her illness and continuing her profession and she became a mentor to some of the younger women in the group.”

“She considered living with cancer part of ‘her journey’ and not a battle to fight,” Butters recalled at Hall’s memorial. “She lived her life with what I can only describe as gusto, and … she was always a deeply compassionate mentor, colleague and friend. She had exceedingly high standards for each of her personal undertakings, and she only knew one way to live, which was ‘all in.’ This meant that when anyone in her sphere was challenged or distressed, she was truly there for them, as both a cheerleader and renderer of all manner of aid, as needed. In keeping with her enduring approach to life, she always did ‘whatever it took.’”

She is survived by her husband Ken and her son Gabriel.

Memorial contributions are suggested to 412Thrive, 44 Woody Crest Drive, Pittsburgh PA 15234.

Marty Levine