Why is sleep frustrating for so many people? Why do we spend so much time and money managing and medicating it, and training ourselves and our children to do it correctly? In Wild Nights , Benjamin Reiss finds answers in sleep's hidden history--one that leads to our present, sleep-obsessed society, its tacitly accepted rules, and their troubling consequences. Read more...
Why is sleep frustrating for so many people? Why do we spend so much time and money managing and medicating it, and training ourselves and our children to do it correctly? In Wild Nights, Benjamin Reiss finds answers in sleep's hidden history--one that leads to our present, sleep-obsessed society, its tacitly accepted rules, and their troubling consequences.
Today we define a good night's sleep very narrowly: eight hours in one shot, sealed off in private bedrooms, children apart from parents. But for most of human history, practically no one slept this way. Tracing sleep's transformation since the dawn of the industrial age, Reiss weaves together insights from literature, social and medical history, and cutting-edge science to show how and why we have tried and failed to tame sleep. In lyrical prose, he leads readers from bedrooms and laboratories to factories and battlefields to Henry David Thoreau's famous cabin at Walden Pond, telling the stories of troubled sleepers, hibernating peasants, sleepwalking preachers, cave-dwelling sleep researchers, slaves who led nighttime uprisings, rebellious workers, spectacularly frazzled parents, and utopian dreamers. We are hardly the first people, Reiss makes clear, to chafe against our modern rules for sleeping.
A stirring testament to sleep's diversity, Wild Nights offers a profound reminder that in the vulnerability of slumber we can find our shared humanity. By peeling back the covers of history, Reiss recaptures sleep's mystery and grandeur and offers hope to weary readers: as sleep was transformed once before, so too can it change today.
- ISBN-13: 9780465061952
- ISBN-10: 0465061958
- Publisher: Basic Books
- Publish Date: March 2017
- Page Count: 320
- Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2017-01-30
- Reviewer: Staff
Reiss (The Showman and the Slave), professor of English at Emory University, takes a historical and literary look at sleep, particularly as it is practicedor notin the modern West. Reiss accessibly addresses an astounding breadth of material, though he touches only occasionally on the science of sleepthis is neither an in-depth neurological discussion nor a guide to fixing sleep difficulties. From the very beginning, Reiss argues against popular conceptions of what is considered normal sleep: sleeping in one straight shot through the night... with, at most, two consenting adults sharing a bed. As he also notes, virtually nothing about our standard model of sleep existed as we know it two centuries ago. Electric lighting and factory work removed people from sleep that was more attuned to seasonal and regional variations in daylight and warmth. Middle-class ideals of multiroomed houses pushed away previous patterns of communal sleeping and sleeping with children in the same room or bed. In the 21st century, the blue light emitted by ubiquitous digital screens decreases melatonin output, reducing the ability to sleep, and the reliance on 24-hour call centers to cater to Westerners IT and shopping needs disturbs the sleep patterns of workers elsewhere. This is a captivating examination and Reiss gives readers much to ponder long into the night. Agent: Wendy Strothman, Strothman Agency. (Mar.)