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Insomniac Hardcover – March 10, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0520246300 ISBN-10: 0520246306 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. No one can describe a journey better than someone who's made the trip, and insomniac Greene's exploration of the disorder is both fascinating and disturbing. Many people, including doctors and insomniacs themselves, believe that sleeplessness is the patient's fault: too much caffeine and stress, irregular bedtimes, lack of exercise. In fact, no one knows what causes it, but the effects of insomnia are clear: as Greene, a professor of literature and women's studies at Scripps College, shows, sleep deprivation kills creativity, reduces levels of the hormones needed to repair cells and is directly linked to weight gain and memory loss, high blood pressure and diabetes. Insomniacs are usually referred to mental health practitioners or the growing number of sleep labs offering behavior modification or drugs (which, for Greene, have always buil[t] tolerance, and rapidly, necessitating ever-larger doses). This is a somewhat cranky book, Greene admits, and rightly so. You can't live with this problem as long as I have, you can't be blown off and written off as many times as I have, and not get cross. Supplementing her own experience with that of other chronic insomniacs and a look at the science of sleep, Greene offers an enjoyable and informative account that will provoke even readers who get their full eight hours a night. (Mar.)
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“Greene’s book is the best available on the subject.”
(New England Journal Of Medicine 2008-09-25)

“Insomniac is far too interesting to lull you into dreamland.”
(O: The Oprah Magazine 2008-03-01)

“A harrowing memoir.”
(Wall Street Journal 2008-02-29)

“Provides . . . insights that many sleep researchers and doctors have lost track of. . . . Among the best books of its kind.”
(Nature 2008-04-17)

“Greene imparts a feeling of solidarity to fellow sufferers.”
(Barbara Bibel Library Journal 2009-02-01)

“No easy answers - but fascinating.”
(People 2008-04-07)

“Disturbing, important book.”
(Seattle Times 2008-03-21)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 520 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (March 10, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520246306
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520246300
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,117,524 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

INSOMNIAC (UC Press, Little Brown in the U.K) was Amazon's #1 pick for March 2008 and a finalist for the Gregory Bateson Prize for Cultural Anthropology. There are many books about insomnia, but there are few that describe what the world looks like to people who struggle with this problem on a daily basis. INSOMNIAC combines personal narrative with scientific investigation; it's the first book to report on the widespread discontent of insomniacs who are tired of hearing the same-old advice and being talked down to by professionals. It asks, why has a condition that plagues so many people been so long neglected and trivialized?

Joyce Carol Oates: "Insomniac is an impassioned work--an inspired amalgam of academic and first-hand research, memoir, analysis... a cri de coeur from a lifetime insomniac that is sure to appeal to the vast army of fellow insomniacs the world over."

Billy Collins: "The good news is that Gayle Greene's book is all you ever need to read on the subject of sleeplessness; the bad news for fellow insomniacs is that reading it--even in bed--will fail to lull you to sleep."

Francine Prose: "Insomniac is far too interetsing to lull you into dreamland, but it will certainly engage and comfort you--and keep you company--during those long, dark hours that the clock ticks off until dawn."

Peter Hauri, co-author of No More Sleepless Nights: "This is a very well-researched, in-depth book on insomnia, written with much empathy and from the patient's point of view. I would recommend it to all who are plagued by this malady or who professionally try to teach it."

Richard Lewis, Professor of psychology and neuroscience, Pomona College: "No other work on insomnia provides such a fresh perspective, which is also informative, compelling, and entertaining."

New England Journal of Medicine: "if you want an in-depth overview of the patients, the physicians, and the science that are part of the contemporary culture surrounding insomnia and sleep medicine, Greene's book is the best available."

People Magazine: "In search of a good night's rest, a lit professor travels the world and bones up on sleep science. Fascinating."

I'm the author of THE WOMAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH: ALICE STEWART AND THE SECRETS OF RADIATION, a biography of a little-known British physician and epidemiologist, Alice Stewart, who discovered in the 1950s that if you x-ray pregnant women, you double the risk of a childhood cancer, and who later became guru to the anti-nuclear movement. Her discovery revolutionized medical practice: on account of it, doctors don't do fetal x-rays anymore. I've also published books on Shakespeare and contemporary women writers, and I've written a memoir. In INSOMNIAC, I brought together academic research and first-person narrative to write about the condition that's plagued me all my life. It was enormously therapeutic to write this book, and many readers have written to tell me it's been helpful to them to read it.

I teach at Scripps College in Claremont, California: Shakespeare, women writers, creative nonfiction, and "The Poetry and Science of Sleep."

I have a blog, SLEEPSTARVED.ORG, for insomniacs who are looking for new ways of thinking about insomnia, who want to learn the latest in research, brainstorm about things that help and what might be done to bring this hidden malady to public awareness.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Lois Maharg on February 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Gayle Greene does a first-rate job of putting a human face on insomnia, an affliction often described in dry, impersonal terms. A lifelong insomniac, Greene approaches her subject not from the strictly medical perspective proffered in self-help books but from the perspective of one who has been there and done that - and has a great deal to say about aspects of insomnia which ordinarily are overlooked. She speaks with conviction and her voice is consistent throughout the book. This is no mean feat: Greene integrates her own story and the narratives of other insomniacs with lots of scientific material. Her language is clean and jargon-free, and passionate and analytical, by turns -- exactly what one looks for in a work that aims to inform and persuade.

In addition, Greene's book offers a powerful critique of a medical establishment that historically has regarded insomnia as "all in the head." In fact, the physiological underpinnings of insomnia are what most insomniacs are waiting to hear about. Yet research in this important area has lagged. Greene's book gives us the inside scoop on why. She attended conferences on sleep disorders and gathered a wealth of information, including the sort of candid comments scientists are usually loath to make in public. Greene questioned the experts face to face, and their responses -- and the nonverbal messages they conveyed -- speak volumes. They're entertaining, too!

Any insomnia sufferer will find plenty of food for thought here. Insomniacs who have felt misunderstood or blamed will feel legitimized in reading Greene's account of her and others' experiences as they struggle to cope. Readers may also want to take some of Greene's suggestions for wooing sleep and try them out for themselves.
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89 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Laura L. Mays Hoopes on February 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Greene embarked on the trail of sleep, having sought it in vain in her own life. If you've ever had an insomniac friend or co-worker, you need to read this book. You'll see yourself in the repeated pseudohelpful comments she has received. Greene didn't stop with friends,relations, and the internet sites for the sleepless, she looked for answers in every conceivable realm. One of the most amusing of her chapters shows her approaching sleep scientists at a national meeting and being rebuffed once they realized she was a lay person. Greene listened to talks and read papers anyway, and came away with a profound understanding of what the biologists do not know. In Insomniac, she made an eloquent argument for Insomniacs Unlimited to form and ACT UP! Evidently "it's all in your head" has been far too convenient a diagnosis, and Greene believes a serious search for a molecular mechanism would be timely and productive. I predict most readers will agree. She does not blind you with science, but includes a soupcon of clearly explained brain function from time to time, with clear quagmire warnings. Her description of living with insomnia will make you cry. Well worth reading!
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Heath on March 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book! I actually tried to slow down at the end so I wouldn't finish it. It is not a book of cumbersome suggestions/rules about how you should be able to "conquer" insomnia. (How tired are we of hearing "keep to a regular sleep schedule, don't nap, don't use the bed for anything but sleep or sex, etc., etc. As though we didn't know all this stuff already.) There are no elaborate sleep schedule diaries, no promises about sleeping perfectly in 6 weeks if you only adhere to her rules.

No, if you are looking primarily for another self-help book, this is not it (thank goodness). Instead, this is a book about the science and history, even philosophy, of sleep disturbance. It discusses the progress (or not) of sleep research efforts. The chapters where the author attends sleep conferences are informative, maddening, and sometimes terribly funny. There is a chapter called "Bedding down the beast" with modest suggestions of things to do that have helped her through the years, but they are not pronouncements from on high: just suggestions.

I personally will treasure this book and re-read it many times. Besides being informative and helpful, "Insomniac" is a lot of fun to read. And Gayle Greene is a person you really get to know - what a pleasure!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dan Eaves on May 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This isn't a `self-help' but a self-helping book. Here's just about everything you can try, with details about what happened to the author when she tried them. She is wonderfully careful to stress that everyone experiences insomnia differently, and the best she can do is share her own and a few other's experiences. And her indignation that medical science has simply given up on insomnia as just too hard.

This book will be loved by everyone with insomnia, and only hated by the true believers in the various (and self-contradictory) "cures". Greene is a grouchy insomniac with style, and a great sense of humor. Certain passages (alone at the sleep convention, packing for a trip, confronting male doctors with female issues they'd rather ignore, etc.) deserve places in illness humor books - assuming there are such things.

While there's nothing really you can do about insomnia, there are all sorts of short term things that, at least for awhile, help. Most of them aren't good for you, long term. For myself, I've worked through the whole range, running from alcohol through Ambien, by way of chloral hydrate, probably all the benzodiazepines ever in existence, and a period when I decided to not sleep at all by way of a very large (and very illegal) bottle of Dexedrine. Stay up 5 days and sleep for two. Works fine until the induced schizophrenia goes florid.

Greene's insomnia seems worse than mine, and she fights it every inch of the way. Thank God, because the rest of us seem to have been forced into servile mode: I know what a great favor you're doing for me and I don't deserve it, but please prescribe me some pills anyway. Doctors are in the horrible position of knowing that the pills available are all wrong in one way or another.
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