Sleep Demons: An Insomniac's Memoir

Bill Hayes, Author
Bill Hayes, Author Washington Square Press $24.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-671-02814-5
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-671-02815-2
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For as far back as he can remember, Hayes has had trouble sleeping. He'd wander his parents' house at night, ""existing on nothing but the fumes of consciousness,"" jealously wondering how everyone else slipped into dreamland so easily. From these nocturnal ramblings grew an unblinking, lifelong fascination with sleep (or the absence of it), which Hayes has transmuted into a skilled and graceful debut that variously reads like a journey of scientific discovery, a personal memoir and a literary episode of Ripley's Believe It or Not. Hayes, a freelance writer from San Francisco, chronicles all his attempts to secure a good night's rest, from folk remedies to psychotherapy to sleeping pills (which failed to provide relief: ""The difference between drugged and natural sleep eventually reveals itself,"" Hayes writes, ""like the difference between an affair and true romance""). In charting the struggle of scientists and philosophers throughout history to understand insomnia, Hayes produces a bonanza of oddball trivia. We learn the longest verified period without sleep was 180 hours, achieved in 1957 by an amphetamine-driven researcher, and that the presence of an internal biological clock was proved in 1955 by flying a hive of bees from Paris to New York on a newfangled jet. Intertwined with all these anecdotes are Hayes's recollections of growing up Catholic and coming to terms with his homosexuality. Though these memories have little to do with his reflections on insomnia, Hayes is such a fluid, poetic and entertaining writer that it doesn't matter. The explanation of how a researcher discovered REM (rapid eye movement) sleep by studying his own son, for example, is just as gripping as Hayes's descriptions of how he helped his partner manage his AIDS symptoms. An intelligent, beautifully written book, Hayes's curious hybrid will delight readers who snore past dawn as well as those who pace away while the midnight oil burns. Agent, Wendy Weil. (Mar.)
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