A Canadian journalist goes deep into history and his own psyche to explore all the possible permutations of sleep.
Warren had one primary motive for writing his enjoyably big and baggy book: “I wanted to catch sleep in the act.” In a welcome attempt to bring some well-needed levity to the often paralyzingly earnest discussions of such matters, Warren structures the book as a Wheel of Fortune–like spinner on which a “You Are Here” sign points to different stages, from The Hypnagogic to The REM Dream, at the start of each chapter. Although necessarily afflicted with new-age tendencies—he does love his dreams—Warren isn’t a preacher trying to convert the masses to his stunning new understanding of the unconscious mind. Instead, he offers a good-natured and self-deprecating ramble through the worlds of sleep and wakefulness, organized around the idea that consciousness is too complicated to be divided into two states, asleep and awake. He partakes in the usual visits to experts, researchers who show him how they can track particular moments in the dramatic flow of his dream narrative by a spike in the EEG chart. He also attends a lucid-dreaming seminar in Hawaii. One of the most engrossing sections follows Warren’s discovery of historian Roger Ekrich’s contention that in premodern Western society, people tended to sleep from 9 p.m. to around midnight, then around 2 a.m. to dawn. To replicate the experience of periods of sleep interrupted by one or more “night watch” bouts of wakefulness, Warren travels to a remote cabin without artificial light and waits for his body to adjust. Not surprisingly, it does, leaving him to note, “eight hours of consolidated sleep is really one option among many, and we likely do ourselves a disservice when we insist on its universality.”
A sprawling and occasionally goofy examination of a shockingly little understood aspect of our lives.