An article in the June 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine reports that Shakespeare “had a very good eye for sleep disorders.”
The article explores the pages of Othello. It cites passages that contain references to sleep and sleep disorders. One passage describes how sleep deprivation will be used as a tool for persuasion.
Another passage presents a clear description of sleep talking:
There are a kind of men so loose of soul
That in their sleeps will mutter their affairs.
The passage goes on to describe behaviors that resemble a parasomnia.
The play also shows how stress can lead to severe adjustment insomnia. And one line makes it clear that insomnia remedies have been around for a long time:
Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday.
Other articles also have noted sleep disorders in Shakespeare’s plays. One article points out that both obstructive sleep apnea and a type of central sleep apnea are described in Henry IV.
Another article reports that Shakespeare’s characters suffered from a variety of sleep disorders. These include sleepwalking, sleep apnea, insomnia and nightmares.
It many of Shakespeare’s plays, sleep could be more of a “tempest” and less of a “midsummer-night’s dream.” Perhaps Titus Andronicus summed it up best when he simply stated, “I have been troubled in my sleep this night.”
Image by Steve Prakope