Sleep De­mons: An In­som­niac’s Mem­oir

by Bill Hayes, Chicago, £13.50

The Guardian - Review - - Out In Paperback - PD Smith

Bill Hayes has strug­gled with in­som­nia since child­hood. At eight he be­gan to sleep­walk, which he as­cribes to the re­al­i­sa­tion that he was gay. Racked by self­doubt, his young mind was try­ing to flee “to­ward a dreamed-up boy, with a new story, a dif­fer­ent ver­sion of my­self”.

As an adult, he sought an­swers to his trou­bled re­la­tion­ship with sleep in the life and work of pi­o­neer­ing sleep sci­en­tist Nathaniel Kleit­man. Like Hayes, Kleit­man was “a man ob­sessed” with it.

First pub­lished in 2001 and now reis­sued with a new preface, this was Hayes’s first book. Ac­counts of dis­or­ders, from ex­ces­sive sleep (hy­per­som­nia) and ir­re­sistible sleep at­tacks (nar­colepsy) to more com­mon ex­pe­ri­ences, such as snor­ing and jet lag, are wo­ven to­gether with Kleit­man’s re­search be­gin­ning in the 1920s and Hayes’s own story of grow­ing up in Amer­ica (a “Coca-Cola child­hood”) as well as liv­ing in San Fran­cisco in the 1980s.

Part mem­oir, part sci­en­tific his­tory, this is an in­ti­mate and beau­ti­fully writ­ten book that brings the re­search alive in a heart­felt and deeply per­sonal nar­ra­tive.

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