A Review of Books About Insomnia (The New Yorker, 11 March 2013)

Since it is a very long time until the next season of Game of Thrones, self has been watching Season 2.  Believe it or not, she has gotten into such a rhythm with watching this show (The Man wants to know why self is so obssessed.  Channeling Ygritte, self tells him:  “You know nuthin’, The Man!” In other words, he better keep his trap shut if he doesn’t want to get plugged with so many arrows he ends up looking like a hedgehog, which was the sight presented by Jon Snow when he dazedly arrived at Castle Black in the final episode of Season 3!)

Anyhoo, it seems she can’t get to sleep at night unless she watches one episode, just before bedtime.  Last night, The Man (who is a Great Tease), played two back-to-back episodes for self, and this was a little bit too much, as then self found that instead of falling asleep at midnight, she was very jacked up.

But, enough with the digressions!  While plowing through her once-again-humongous Pile of Stuff today, Friday, self happened to come across an essay called “Up All Night:  The Science of Sleeplessness,” in The New Yorker of 11 March 2013.  She read the article straight through, from beginning to end, with only one break:  to go to the Redwood City Library and pick up a copy of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (It’s self’s first Hilary Mantel.  Isn’t that crrrrazy???)

One of the books reviewed, The Slumbering Masses, written by a UC Santa Cruz anthropology professor named Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer (What a fabulous name for a professor!), has this to say about our modern pattern of sleep:

Until a century and a half or so ago, Wolf-Meyer observes, “Americans, like other people around the world, used to sleep in an unconsolidated fashion, that is, in two or more periods throughout the day.”  They went to bed not long after the sun went down.  Four or five hours later, they woke from their “first sleep” and rattled around —  praying, chatting, smoking, or making love.  (Benjamin Franklin reportedly liked to spend this time reading naked in a chair).  Eventually, they went back to their “second sleep.”

As for self, she fell into the habit of wakefulness when she became a mother.  So that she would not waste a single minute of the nocturnal hours, she would read next to son’s crib.  When he woke, she would wake, and then read some more.  In this way, self managed to read many, many, many books, all the while son was an infant, and years and years beyond, up to today.

The Man is exactly the opposite:  he falls asleep instantaneously, and sleeps 10 hours at a stretch.  One minute he’s awake, the next —  Bang! —  he’s asleep.  Then he starts to snore.  Loud.  And this makes self so frustratingly envious that she is tempted to pinch The Man’s nose.  But she restrains herself.  She is not the type of person who pinches sleeping people’s noses.  Of course not!

She read somewhere that people who have insomnia live much shorter lifespans than other people.  Which means —  hello!  There is absolutely no time to waste, self!  Get cracking and finish your book!

Another book mentioned in the essay is Internal Time:  Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired, by Till Roenneberg, of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (Again, what a name.  Self can go years at a stretch without encountering one single outstandingly fabulous name, and suddenly, in one essay, she encounters two).  Here the professor categorizes people according to sleep habits.  Some people are larks, which means they are indefatigable early risers.  And other people are owls, which means they stay up all night.  According to the author of the essay, Elizabeth Kolbert (which has self wondering if it’s pronounced like Stephen Colbert’s name, but once again she digresses), “Teen-agers are owls, which is why high schools are filled with students who look (and act) like zombies.”  Self wonders how teen-agers graduate from being owls to being normal?  Or do some people stay owls for the rest of their lives?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


  1. June 16, 2013 at 12:19 am

    Thanks for this post – really Interesting to learn about the science. Lately, unwittingly, I have been reliving those earlier sleep patterns – 5 hours at night, long nap during day. Sometimes it works.

    • June 16, 2013 at 3:50 am

      I’m going to try really hard to get into that “short sleep” pattern spread throughout the day. Stay tuned!

      • June 16, 2013 at 5:26 am

        The middle of the day can be tedious anyway. Might as well sleep then.

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