cover image Wild Nights: How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World

Wild Nights: How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World

Benjamin Reiss. Basic, $28 (320) ISBN 978-0-465-06195-2

Reiss (The Showman and the Slave), professor of English at Emory University, takes a historical and literary look at sleep, particularly as it is practiced—or not—in the modern West. Reiss accessibly addresses an astounding breadth of material, though he touches only occasionally on the science of sleep—this is neither an in-depth neurological discussion nor a guide to fixing sleep difficulties. From the very beginning, Reiss argues against popular conceptions of what is considered “normal” sleep: “sleeping in one straight shot through the night... with, at most, two consenting adults sharing a bed.” As he also notes, “virtually nothing about our standard model of sleep existed as we know it two centuries ago.” Electric lighting and factory work removed people from sleep that was more attuned to seasonal and regional variations in daylight and warmth. Middle-class ideals of multiroomed houses pushed away previous patterns of communal sleeping and sleeping with children in the same room or bed. In the 21st century, the blue light emitted by ubiquitous digital screens decreases melatonin output, reducing the ability to sleep, and the reliance on 24-hour call centers to cater to Westerners’ IT and shopping needs disturbs the sleep patterns of workers elsewhere. This is a captivating examination and Reiss gives readers much to ponder long into the night. Agent: Wendy Strothman, Strothman Agency. (Mar.)