Wide Awake: What I Learned About Sleep from Doctors, Drug Companies, Dream Experts, and a Reindeer Herder in the Arctic Circle

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9780385522243: Wide Awake: What I Learned About Sleep from Doctors, Drug Companies, Dream Experts, and a Reindeer Herder in the Arctic Circle
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A fourth-generation insomniac, Patricia Morrisroe decided that the only way she’d ever conquer her lifelong sleep disorder was by becoming an expert on the subject. So, armed with half a century of personal experience and a journalist’s curiosity, she set off to explore one of life’s greatest mysteries: sleep. Wide Awake is the eye-opening account of Morrisroe’s quest—a compelling memoir that blends science, culture, and business to tell the story of why she—and forty million other Americans—can’t sleep at night.            

Over the course of three years of research and reporting, Morrisroe talks to sleep doctors, drug makers, psychiatrists, anthropologists, hypnotherapists, “wake experts,” mattress salesmen, a magician, an astronaut, and even a reindeer herder. She spends an uncomfortable night wired up in a sleep lab. She tries “sleep restriction” and “brain music therapy.” She buys a high-end sound machine, custom-made ear plugs, and a “quiet” house in the country to escape her noisy neighbors in the city. She attends a continuing medical education course in Las Vegas, where she discovers that doctors are among the most sleep-deprived people in the country. She travels to Sonoma, California, where she attends a Dream Ball costumed as her “dream self.” To fulfill a childhood fantasy, she celebrates Christmas Eve two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, in the famed Icehotel tossing and turning on an ice bed. Finally, after traveling the globe, she finds the answer to her insomnia right around the corner from her apartment in New York City. 

 
A mesmerizing mix of personal insight, science and social observation, Wide Awake examines the role of sleep in our increasingly hyperactive culture. For the millions who suffer from sleepless nights and hazy caffeine-filled days, this humorous, thought-provoking and ultimately hopeful book is an essential bedtime companion. It does, however, come with a warning: Reading it will promote wakefulness.

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Review:

Patricia Morrisroe on Wide Awake

When I told my sleep doctor that I’d decided to write a book about insomnia, he informed me that it was a "terrible, terrible idea" and begged me to reconsider. Except for downing a double espresso before bedtime, obsessing about sleep is the worst thing you can do if you’ve got insomnia. And writing a book is the ultimate obsession. The doctor had a good point, but there was one little problem: I already had a book contract. Wanting to please the sleep doctor but not wanting to alienate my editor, I began cataloguing my other health problems. Perhaps I could substitute thinning bones for insomnia? But I wasn’t particularly interested in bones. Bones aren’t mysterious. Bones don’t dream. You can see bones, even when they’re thinning, but sleep is everywhere and nowhere. It’s the great unsolved puzzle, the black hole in the scientific universe.

So I kept my book and left my sleep doctor, and then I struck out on my own, attending conferences, interviewing experts, trying every conceivable pill and therapy. One sleep psychologist described my journey as "Me-Search." It wasn’t meant as a compliment. He’d spent years studying the field and acquiring multiple degrees, while I was merely an insomniac in search of a good night’s sleep. But I wasn’t attempting to solve the mystery of sleep, merely the mystery of my sleep. And guess what?--I cracked the case. While I probably won’t win the Nobel Prize, I can honestly say that nobody knows my sleep better than I do. And that is totally empowering.

Sleep, I learned, doesn’t come from the outside; it doesn’t fly through the window like a lunar moth or Dracula. Your sleeping self is often a mirror image of your waking self. You are your own sleep. Once I grasped this hard-won insight, I started to sleep much better. Not perfectly, mind you. But what is that? My mother-in-law gets up in the middle of the night to read novels. My agent routinely rises at 2:30 a.m. to catch up on the Daily Show. My dental hygienist is using the time to re-paint her bathroom. Sometimes we sleep through the night, sometimes we don’t. It’s not always perfect. Like life, or love, or--bones.


About the Author:

Patricia Morrisroe received a B.A. from Tufts University and an M.A. from NYU. She is the author of Mapplethorpe: A Biography and was for many years a contributing editor to New York magazine. She has written for numerous other publications, including Vanity Fair and Vogue. With her husband, Lee, she divides her time between a noisy apartment in New York City and a (relatively) quiet house in Westchester County.

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