Dr. Sarah Zallek grew up in Peoria, attended Bergan High School, and earned her bachelor’s degree in biopsychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Upon graduating from Rush Medical College in Chicago, she completed her residency and fellowship at the University of Michigan, where she met Dr. Chris Zallek, a fellow neurology resident who soon became her husband.
Returning to her hometown, Dr. Zallek became the first medical director of the Sleep Center at OSF HealthCare in 2000 and continues in this position today. She serves as physician director of communication and education for the OSF Illinois Neurological Institute and medical staff past president at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, among other roles at OSF HealthCare. A clinical associate professor of neurology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria, she enjoys teaching medical students and residents, and providing continuing medical education for practicing physicians.
Dr. Zallek’s CV runs a mile long—full of certifications, honors and awards, and professional affiliations. She has authored peer-reviewed publications, book chapters and articles, and is a frequent presenter on sleep health. Her current research centers on the impact of sleep on employee groups. She has been a Girl Scout troop leader, sits on the Peoria Riverfront Museum Board of Directors, and previously served on the boards of Peoria Public Radio and the Country Club of Peoria. She and Chris have two daughters: Anna, a junior at the University of Illinois, and Zoe, a senior at Richwoods High School.
- Favorite treat: Vanilla ice cream with homemade cajeta (goat’s milk caramel).
- Who are some of your favorite writers? Robertson Davies, John Irving, Kurt Vonnegut, Ayn Rand, Malcom Gladwell, Oliver Sacks, Gabrielle Hamilton.
- How much sleep do you need each night to feel rested? This is a funny one for me because I’m a sleep specialist. I tolerate sleep deprivation pretty well and I have a lot of energy, so I didn’t realize I function best with seven to eight hours of sleep a night until I tried it when I was in my sleep fellowship training program. It was eye-opening!
- Favorite journey: South Africa for two months on my own in 1992. I did my last couple of medical school rotations there, traveled and met unforgettable people. It was the end of apartheid, but it was still an entirely segregated country. Getting to know people of all walks, hearing their stories, and seeing them connect with and care about each other was a beautiful and formative experience.
- What do you like to do to relax? Read, play cribbage, do crossword puzzles, cook and play guitar.
- Easiest decision: Marrying my husband. He’s the best husband, partner and friend I could ever imagine.
- At what time of day do you feel your best? I have always been a morning person, but I also love to stay up late (which makes it tempting to short myself on sleep).
- What was your first job? I started working at the Strawberry Patch dress shop in Peoria Heights on my 16th birthday. When I applied, the owner asked me to demonstrate my handwriting to see if I could write the prices and shop name on the beautiful little tags, boxes and bags. I got the job, but because my handwriting was too messy (still a problem!), I took in inventory and folded clothes—and I loved it.
- When and where were you happiest? The present. I’ve had the joy of being happier each year of my life. I am healthy and surrounded by family and friends I care deeply about, who make me laugh, laugh at my jokes, and come to our dinner table.
- What’s the best advice you ever received?
Happiness is making the most of the choices you have made and the circumstances you are in. PM