Sleep Demons: An Insomniac’s Memoir
by Bill Hayes, Chicago, £13.50
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.