One woman’s quest for a good night’s sleep
Wide Awake: A Memoir of Insomnia. By Patricia Morrisroe. Spiegel & Grau, 288 pp., $25.
By Janice Harayda
Patricia Morrisroe once flew to Lapland and spent Christmas in a glorified igloo called the Icehotel, where reindeer pelts covered the beds and the indoor temperature was a constant 20 degrees Fahrenheit. She says she hoped that a visit to a place where daylight lasted only a few hours might help to ease her chronic insomnia.
You don’t quite believe that Morrisroe expected that result from her trip, but she’s such an entertaining writer you’re happy to go along. And it’s not as though she hadn’t tried less extreme remedies for her nocturnal awakenings, a condition known as “sleep-maintenance insomnia.”
In Wide Awake Morrisroe describes her mostly futile plunge into a pool of insomnia treatments prescribed by doctors and others. She tried cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques that made her miserable. She had electrodes pasted to her head at a $3,200-a-night hospital-based sleep lab that “would be the perfect place to set a horror movie.” She took sleeping pills that caused memory loss (Ambien and Sonata) or made her insomnia worse (Celexa). Only meditation made a real difference in her life, and to judge by a recent interview in Salon, its benefits had limits.
Morrisroe describes her adventures in a slightly digressive style that at times leads her away from sleep and into such topics as her “snowmobile safari” in Lapland, where she drove a sled pulled by 400-pound reindeer. And she tries a few flaky remedies while omitting any serious discussion of many people’s favorite sleep aid, sex. But she’s such a good reporter and witty raconteur that Wide Awake is the rare book on its subject that might appeal to many people who rarely have insomnia.
Even if you sleep like Rip Van Winkle, you may enjoy Morrisroe’s musing topics such as the vanishing siesta in Spain, a country that has been forced to fall into step with the workday rhythms of the rest of Europe. “Instead of a three-hour lunch break,” she writes, “government employees can now take only an hour, with the result that Spaniards, who don’t start dinner until after 9 p.m., are among the most sleep-deprived people in Europe.” A partial solution may lie in the napping parlors cropping up in Spain, with naps usually sold in combination with a massage. The trend causes Morrisroe to wonder: “Can the Viagra Café MetroNap be far behind?”
Best line: Morrisroe writes after going to a course for doctors in Las Vegas: “In the fifties and sixties, 120 atomic bombs were detonated in the Mohave Desert, right outside the city. Casinos packed ‘atomic bomb lunches’ so guests could picnic hear ‘Ground Zero.’”
Worst line: “Utilizing eight monumental screens, [Sleepwalkers] chronicles a night in the lives of five stylish New Yorkers as they shake off sleep and wend their way into the city to begin their workday.” Morrisroe is too good a writer for that “utilizing.”
Editor: Cindy Spiegel
Published: May 2010
Caveat lector: This review of Wide Awake was based on an advance reader’s copy. Some material in the finished book may differ.
About the author: Morrisroe also wrote Mapplethorpe: A Biography.
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© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.