Saturday, June 26, 2010

Review: “Wide Awake: A Memoir of Insomnia”

In “Wide Awake: A Memoir of Insomnia” author Patricia Morrisroe provides an entertaining overview of the basics of sleep medicine and the lengths people go to find sleep.

Morrisroe has battled insomnia for most of her life. In the book she describes her frustrations of waking up most nights and never getting back to sleep, a problem that dates back to childhood.

The story is about the author as much as it is about sleep. Morrisroe’s writing style is straightforward and personal. It’s easy to identify with her as she desperately grasps for anything to help with her insomnia.

One warning to readers: “Wide Awake” does not make for good bedtime reading. The description inside the hardcover jacket advises, “Reading [“wide awake”] will promote wakefulness.” Readers with insomnia caused by bedtime anxiety should heed this warning. Reading the inner thoughts of a writer with insomnia may only perpetuate sleeplessness by suggestion.

Reading “Wide Awake” its clear Morrisroe is well-versed in the scientific background of sleep. She intelligently breaks down jargon-filled research articles found in academic journals to educate readers about various sleep disorders and treatments.

The early to middle parts of the book compellingly lay out just how ubiquitous sleep, or the lack of it, is in our technologically-driven 24-hour society. In many ways, we’re being kept from sleep; from our hospitals to the casino floors in Las Vegas bleary-eyed workers try to survive day-by-day.

The narrative takes some distracting detours in its later acts. It seems the whole purpose of Morrisroe’s adventure in arctic Sweden is to show readers “look at this exotic place where I couldn’t sleep.” The segment about the new-age dream retreat and costume ball seemed similarly off-track.

Morrisroe gives a somewhat controversial account of her experiences with sleep clinicians. Most disappointingly, she did not adhere to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the AASM recommended treatment for primary insomnia. Based on her accounts, her therapist wasn’t the right fit. She describes an almost adversarial relationship filled with friction. In this case it’s best to switch therapists and find a mental health professional with a more compatible disposition.

Ending Spoiler Alert: Contrary to the books description, Morrisroe never finds the answer to her insomnia, but she does come close. Meditation techniques seem to temporarily work by reducing her sleep anxiety. But it’s an environmental factor that ultimately keeps her up at night. The book closes with her sitting on her porch at 4 a.m. staring at the full moon, unable to sleep but relaxed from meditation.

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