Sleep Demons : An Insomniac's Memoir

by bill hayes | Biographies & Memoirs |
ISBN: 0671028154 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 7/12/2006
Buy from one of these Booksellers: | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon DE | Amazon FR | Amazon IT |
7 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Wednesday, July 12, 2006
I stumbled across my first copy of this book quite by accident, but loved it so much that when I saw it on sale at I had to pick up a couple of spare copies to release (including this wild one). And this way I can copy my comments, instead of having to make up a bunch of new stuff {grin}:

This was a total surprise to me - I'd expected a simple discussion of insomnia, though unsure whether there would be more emphasis on science or on the "memoir" aspect, but this turned out to be a beautifully-woven combination of both; the author recounts his childhood, adolescence, coming out, and long-term relationships, always with his own insomnia as a connecting thread, and as he steps from one memory to another he'll insert information about the history and science of sleep-studies as they pertain to the particular sleep disorder he's focusing on. One of the early sleep researchers used his own son for some of the experiments; interviewing the son, now an adult, author Hayes sees parallels with his own relationship with his father. Discussing his own childhood sleepwalking experiences, he segues into the study of same - including some court cases in which people were acquitted of murder because it was thought they had done it in their sleep...

While he states that insomnia - the normal kind, anyway - will not kill you, he turns up a variety that actually does kill; it's rare, but sounds extremely nasty. He mentions the ancient Greek god of sleep, Hypnos, brother of Death and born of Night. [At this point I wondered where Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" Morpheus came in; seems that Morpheus, the dream-bringer, was one of the many sons of Hypnos, which would make Death his uncle instead of (as in Gaiman's mythology) his sister. Close enough, anyway!]

This is another of those books where I've tagged so many passages as quote-worthy that I'd be typing all night to get them in, so I'm going to have to be selective. This bit, from a "what are yawns for" segment early on, appealed to me:
Regardless, on some nights, a good long yawn is as close as I come to a good night's sleep, so I savor each of its four to seven seconds. I picture a yawn triggering the brain to fire off a round of sleep-inducing pellets into the bloodstream; they find their targets in lolling limbs and fluttering eyelids. In the heart of a yawn is a moment of suspension - not unlike the pause immediately before orgasm - when it feels as if the yawn itself is swallowing you, an inner-ear roar rises, and all of outside sound is muffled. It's a moment you'd like to go on and on, but trying to freeze a yawn is like trying to seek haven in a hiccup.
Later on he refers to Russian scientist Marie de Manaceine, one of the first female physicians in Russia, wrote a book about sleep and its pathologies in 1897, and Hayes says she "had a flair for dramatic pronouncements. 'Ennui,' she wrote, 'must induce sleep,' a line that I've become fond of reciting at bedtime. Purely by the sound of her writing voice - astringent yet sensual - I imagine de Manaceine to be a brilliant elderly oddball; Marie Curie meets Julia Child, with the bemused face of Colette."

He talks about beds and mattresses, and whether the type actually makes any difference to quality of sleep. [Flying in the face of the deluge of advertisements for ever-fancier and smarter beds, he says that studies show the type of mattress really doesn't matter that much. Your mileage may vary.]

Later on I get to experience the glee of spotting a reference to a favorite work in another work: Hayes is talking about sleepwalking, and describes how as a child he'd appear in the kitchen long after having gone to bed, to his parents' discomfiture. He says he imagined himself going on long trips through the neighborhood in his sleep, "in the fictional tradition of Neddy Merrill, the protagonist of my favorite John Cheever story, 'The Swimmer'" - and I thought, "Hey, I liked that story! And it is seriously dream-to-nightmarish..."

Then he gets into a discussion of sleep-talking, or somniloquy, a lovely word that I will have to pass along to my nephew, a notorious sleep-talker himself. Is sleep-talking related to sleep-walking? Not as much as one might think. Do sleep-talkers ever speak comprehensibly? Sometimes, though rarely. Is what they say significant, or are they rambling - or dreaming? Unclear; some people seem to recount - sometimes word for word - conversations they've had during the day, while others ramble about impossible things [Lovecraft, anyone?] and still others mutter incomprehensively [to the vast frustration of the people they've awakened, who had hoped to at least get some dirt out of it!]. Another odd thing: there are records of patients who have aphasia and cannot speak at all while conscious, but who can speak in their sleep. What this says about the brain and speech - and sleep - I have no idea, but it's interesting.

Another moment of happy recognition came farther along, when in the sleep-talking chapter Hayes refers to a notorious sleep-talker named Dion [rhymes with "lion" as it's short for Dionysus] McGregor, whose prolonged sleep-talking sessions were recorded by a doctor and then published both as a book and a recording - illustrated by [wait for it...] Edward Gorey!!!!

I had never heard of this book!!! [Alas, it's rarish and pricey, but now I have to get one anyway.] Am not so sure I want to hear the recorded version, even though it's apparently been reissued on CD recently (click here for some comments on the recordings); as Hayes describes it, "he sounds as if he were channeling Truman Capote on acid: flirtatious, slushy, disconnected from reality - the voice of self-unconsciousness. Even his transcribed speeches have this quality." But "as innocuous as Dion's words sound today, I am still haunted by the possibility that a very troubled soul lay at the heart of this flamboyant man who talked in his sleep, whose somniloquy was recorded, published, exploited. Dressed up with Gorey's whimsical drawings, his book looks enchanting. On the written page, his sleeptalking references are often funny, campy, graphic, fantastical. But listening to the recordings, one finds that Dion's somniloquy nearly always ends in the same way: in fury, with a bloodcurdling shriek."


While most of the book is nostalgic, informative, funny, or all of the above, the bit about McGregor isn't the only chilling passage. One of Hayes' friends, hospitalized in the final stages of AIDS, "stopped talking after several days in the ward, I was told. I remember thinking, I'm not surprised: this shy and gentle kid is ready to die, and he doesn't want to talk about it to anyone - whether doctor, social worker, or friend - anymore. I interpreted his silence as a noble surrender.... It wasn't until he died a few weeks later and an autopsy was performed that doctors finally discovered lesions on Jeff's brain, due to AIDS< which had caused his dementia and loss of speech."

Hayes is finally convinced to try and do something about his own insomnia when his partner Steve becomes very ill with AIDS himself; the stress of caregiving makes Hayes' usual sleep difficulties even worse, and his growing use of sleeping pills doesn't help. But when the new protease inhibitors give Steve a respite from the disease, Hayes decides that maybe he can give science a chance as well, and goes to a sleep clinic. Will they be able to help him get a good night's sleep? Hey, I have to leave something for the reader to discover!

All told I enjoyed this book very much, from Hayes' researches into the history of sleep studies to his account of his own life. I like the way he writes, and the way he weaves the elements of the book together - it all seems to flow naturally between his researches, memories, and speculations, the way one's work and one's life can be interwoven.

[I enjoyed another book of his, Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood, also, though it didn't have quite the impact of this one.]

Journal Entry 2 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Saturday, July 15, 2006
I'm offering this for a bookray; see forum post here.

Bookray/ring instructions:

When you receive the book, please journal it, and PM the next person in line for their address so you'll have it ready when you've finished the book.
Note: even if you've sent books to that person before, please PM them before mailing this one, to confirm that the address is correct and that they're able to take on a bookring book at this time.
Try and read the book promptly - ideally, within a month of receiving it. (If you expect to take longer, you can request to be put at the end of the list. If you find you're swamped with other books when the person before you contacts you about the bookring, you can ask to be skipped, and then let me know whether you'd like to be moved down the list or dropped entirely. If you receive the book and find it's taking longer than you'd planned to get through it, I'd appreciate an update in its journal entries or on your profile, just to let me and the other participants know you haven't forgotten it.)

When you're ready to pass the book along, please make another journal entry containing your comments about the book and stating where you've sent it, and set the book's status code to "traveling". [If you find that you're having problems contacting the next person in line, or don't think you can manage to mail the book as originally agreed, please let me know; I'll be glad to try to work something out.]


Participants, in mailing order:

LyekkaMarengo [Pennsylvania]
Arwen-Galadriel [Canada]
sqdancer [Canada]
FutureCat [New Zealand]
Bookworm-lady [Spain]
rebeccaljames [Ohio] [skipped on request]

Journal Entry 3 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Monday, July 31, 2006
Controlled release:

I'm sending this (by media mail) to BCer LyekkaMarengo in Pennsylvania to kick off the bookray. Hope you enjoy it!

Journal Entry 4 by LyekkaMarengo from Warriors Mark, Pennsylvania USA on Tuesday, August 8, 2006
Received safe and sound in Central, PA. Being a long time insomniac I'm looking forward to this one. Now if I can just keep myself from reading it at bedtime. I've 1 1/2 books in front of this one but they are both little ones so I'll be starting it soon.

Thanks for the ring.

Journal Entry 5 by LyekkaMarengo from Warriors Mark, Pennsylvania USA on Saturday, September 9, 2006
This was a great book and as a long time insomniac I can't add much to what Gory wrote except that I would reinforce her use of the word "weaves" to describe this memoir. It is much more than a memoir of a man who has trouble sleeping his whole life. He veers off onto subject both related and not yet makes the books chapters flow by. He goes into his personal family history, the various sleep researchers, the different types of disorders associated with sleep. I love how he says that jet lag is an insomniacs revenge. We get some twisted pleasure out of other "normal" sleepers seeing just a touch of what we go through every night of our lives. His discription of his experience was very close to what I feel when he writes: "I lay awake as a young boy, my mind racing like the spell check function on a computer, scanning all data, lighting on images, moments, fragments of conversation, impossible to turn off." As I said this book is quite an amalgam of different books, it's part reference book, part soul-searching youth finding himself,part an attempt to come to terms with his past, part interesting trivia and the last few chapters are one of the most touching love stories I've read in a long time. If you are an insomniac or live with one you will recognize a lot in this book. If you aren't - well it might give you a different take on why we can't just fall asleep like you. I have a feeling I'll be getting a copy of this for my own collection. Thanks for the ring and this one will be moving on to Arwen-Galadriel on Tuesday.

Journal Entry 6 by LyekkaMarengo from Warriors Mark, Pennsylvania USA on Friday, September 15, 2006
Mailed today to Arwen-Galadriel in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Journal Entry 7 by Arwen-Galadriel from Edmonton, Alberta Canada on Thursday, October 5, 2006
Book got to my place safely and I will start as soon as I finish the bookring book that I am currently in the middle of. Will journal once I have finished.

Journal Entry 8 by Arwen-Galadriel from Edmonton, Alberta Canada on Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Finished the book yesterday on my way home from Regina and I really enjoyed it. I do have to say that I enjoyed the info about the history of the study of sleep a little more interesting than his actual experiences with insomnia but it was interesting nonetheless. Anyways, will send out as soon as I get an address....

Journal Entry 9 by Arwen-Galadriel from Edmonton, Alberta Canada on Sunday, October 22, 2006
Sent book off to next participant yesterday. By the way thanks for sharing ...

Journal Entry 10 by sqdancer on Friday, October 27, 2006
Arrived safe and sound. As an intermittant isomniac, I'm really looking forward to reading this book.

Journal Entry 11 by sqdancer on Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Just a quick note to say that I haven't forgotten about this ring. I have the FutureCat's address and will be mailing the book out next week. Sorry for the delay.

I am enjoying the book, very interesting and well written. Further book review will follow when I post the exact mailing date.

Journal Entry 12 by sqdancer on Wednesday, December 13, 2006
An enjoyable read. I found the section on sleep-talking to be interesting, as my S.O. is a sleep-talker. Unfortunately, the insomnia that I had under a bit of control has reared it's ugly head again. Oh well, I can see that I am in good company. LyekkaMarengo. :-)

Sent by Air Mail - December 19th.
Apologies for the delay.

Journal Entry 13 by futurecat from Christchurch, Canterbury New Zealand on Thursday, January 4, 2007
Arrived safely in New Zealand today.

^ ^

Journal Entry 14 by futurecat from Christchurch, Canterbury New Zealand on Monday, January 8, 2007
As always, Gory has already said everything I want to say about this book. The science/science history and memoir aspects are very cleverly interwoven, and make for a fascinating read (and I have to agree with the reviewer from The Boston Herald who said "You're dreaming if you think this book will lull you to sleep" - I stayed up way too late reading this for several nights!)

Coincidentally, there was an article about sleep and dreaming in the newspaper yesterday. It's way over-simplified (one of those filler articles they churn out during the low-news "silly season"), but it does mention a few recent developments in sleep science that I don't think Hayes covered, so I'll pop it in the back of the book.

^ ^

Journal Entry 15 by futurecat from Christchurch, Canterbury New Zealand on Friday, January 12, 2007
Posting to Bookworm-lady today.

Journal Entry 16 by wingBookworm-ladywing from Madrid, Madrid Spain on Friday, January 26, 2007
I received it yesterday; looking forward to reading it!
This was the first book-ray/ring I signed for, so it is a bit special to me...
Thank you, FutureCat, loved the Penguin post-card, and the newspaper article was a great idea!
And, by the way, your Spanish is very good!
All my best!

Journal Entry 17 by wingBookworm-ladywing from Madrid, Madrid Spain on Sunday, July 15, 2007
Wow! I couldn't put it down!
I had sleep problems in the past, in times of crisis; not any more, luckily,
Anyway, this book is very, very interesting, ranging from lots of fantastic reseach about sleep, to Mr. Hayes' personal life, and experiences as a gay man in San Francisco when AIDs first broke out.
I am setting up a bookray, as I am the last one in this one. The book deserves more readers! Watch this space!
thanks for sharing, GoryDetails... and thanks for passing it on, FutureCat!

Journal Entry 18 by wingBookworm-ladywing from Madrid, Madrid Spain on Saturday, July 21, 2007
O.K., I have found enough interested members for a continuing bookray.

So here is the mailing order (so far):

Congested-Chi (U.S.A.)(the book is here since August, 1st, 2007)
Classicfox (U.S.A.)
lovelovebooks (U.S.A.)
StarbrightII (U.S.A.)
Ealasaidmae (U.S.A.)
Bookcloud (England)
Maggiemo (Scotland)

Let's get it moving again!

Journal Entry 19 by wingBookworm-ladywing from Madrid, Madrid Spain on Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Sent yesterday to Congested-Chi, in U.S.A., to start a new bookray.
This book deserves to go on traveling!"
Enjoy, and sleep tight!

Journal Entry 20 by CongestedChi from Longview, Texas USA on Wednesday, August 1, 2007
I love this book :)
Thank you for letting me read your copy on its journey!

Journal Entry 21 by wingBookworm-ladywing from Madrid, Madrid Spain on Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I am afraid CongestedChi isn't answering my PMs; she's had the book since August, 1st, and unfortunately was the first in the bookray.
I consider it stalled, and I am very sorry for everyone who really wanted to read it.
What a shame!

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