THE SLUMBERING MASSES by Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer


Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life
Email this review


A deconstruction of current preconceptions about sleep.

Wolf-Meyer (Anthropology/Univ. of California, Santa Cruz) challenges the notion, promulgated by the medical community and pharmaceutical companies, that the norm of eight hours of consolidated sleep has been scientifically established to be crucial for medical and physical health. He argues that because “sleep is always biological and social, cultural and natural, historical and emergent, [it] will always be perceived through contextual lenses.” He cites the rapid increase of sleep clinics as an indication of the national obsession with a solid night's sleep. Insomnia and other sleeping disorders are often considered biological problems, rather than results of psychological stress, environmental conditions or the economic pressures of a 24/7 global economy. For many people, taking a sleeping pill with dinner and a stimulant in the morning has become routine, especially as the inability to fall asleep quickly or periods of wakefulness during the night are considered to be disorders and treated with “sleep medicine.” Wolf-Meyer sees this as part of a broader phenomenon: the reification of “nature and normalcy.” He bolsters his argument with a historical overview (including Thomas Edison's contention that sleep was unnecessary), case studies of individuals who were misdiagnosed and improperly medicated, and accounts of the unsuccessful attempts to ban napping in submarines. The author also warns parents about the dire developmental consequences of poor childhood sleeping habits (e.g., low self-esteem and adolescent drug use).

A scholarly treatment of a fascinating subject that nonacademic readers may find difficult to follow.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8166-7474-9
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2012


NonfictionTHE SLEEP REVOLUTION by Arianna Huffington
by Arianna Huffington
NonfictionDREAMING SOULS by Owen Flanagan
by Owen Flanagan
NonfictionWIDE AWAKE by Patricia Morrisroe
by Patricia Morrisroe