Insomniac, the book

Insomniac was shortlisted for the Gregory Bateson Prize, Society for Cultural Anthropology, for being “interdisciplinary, experimental, and innovative.”


book trailer



“…a courageous memoir of chronic insomnia interwoven with a fascinating examination of the emerging biological understanding of sleep disorders. Similar in depth and scope to Andrew Solomon’s remarkable memoir of depression, The Noonday Demon…so fascinating and so affecting that it’s worth losing some sleep over.”

bookcover.gifI can’t work, I can’t think, I can’t connect with anyone anymore. . . . I mope through a day’s work and haven’t had a promotion in years. . . . My life’s on hold. . . . It’s like I’m being sucked dry, eaten away, swallowed up, coming unglued. . . .

These are voices of a few of the tens of millions who suffer from chronic insomnia. In this revelatory book, a deft weave of gripping memoir and wide-ranging scientific investigation, Gayle Greene offers a uniquely comprehensive account of this devastating and little-understood condition. Greene, herself a lifelong insomniac, has explored an astonishing array of remedies, from hardcore sleeping pills to alternative therapies. She travels the world in her quest for answers, interviewing sleep researchers, neurologists, doctors, psychotherapists, and insomniacs of all sorts. What comes of this extraordinary journey is a cutting edge account of what is known about insomnia, providing the information every insomniac needs to know to make intelligent choices among medications and therapies.

Insomniac is at once a field guide through the hidden terrain inhabited by insomniacs, a map for navigating the reefs and shoals of sleepless nights and sleepy days, and a book of consolations for those who have struggled with this affliction that has long been trivialized and neglected.

What readers have said:

“Insomnia is an impassioned work–an inspired amalgam of academic and first-hand research, memoir, analysis, and the kind of obsessive brooding we associate with the insomniac state. Much here is fascinating, and much is upsetting; here is a cri de coeur from a lifetime insomniac that is sure to appeal to the vast army of fellow insomniacs the world over.”
— Joyce Carol Oates

“A fascinating and unusual look at the world of insomnia and sleep science. Written from the perspective of an insomnia sufferer, this exhaustively researched book critically and thoughtfully examines what we know (or claim to know) about sleep and the treatment of insomnia. Required reading for insomnia sufferers, clinicians treating the disorder, and anyone interested in the science of sleep.”
— Nicholas Rosenlicht, M.D., University of California, San Francisco

“As a clinical psychologist afflicted by insomnia for many years, I was delighted to read Insomniac. Doing so has already helped me and my insomniac clients immensely. Gayle Greene ‘gets it’ as only another insomniac can. She educates, advises, and comforts with a steady, sympathetic hand.”
— Timothy Miler, clinical psychologist and author of How To Want What You Have

“This work provides a rich account of insomnia, weaving together the personal journey of the author, experiences of other insomniacs, and solid scientific research. No other work on insomnia provides such a fresh perspective, which is also informative, compelling, and entertaining.”
— Richard Lewis, Department of Psychology, Pomona College

“This is a very well researched, in-depth book on insomnia, written with much empathy and from the patient’s point of view. I would recommend it to all who are plagued by this malady or who professionally try to treat it.”
— Peter Hauri, author of No More Sleepless Nights

“The good news is that Gayle Greene’s book is all you ever need to read on the subject of sleeplessness; the bad news for fellow insomniacs is that reading it —even in bed– will fail to lull you to sleep.”
— Billy Collins


Mike Perlis, “When Sleep Proves Impossible,” Science 18 July 2008:Vol. 321. no. 5887, p. 343

Jim Horne, “Bedtime Reading,” Nature 452, 813-814 (17 April 2008) | doi:10.1038/452813a

D.T. Max
–Zoloft site

“Gayle Greene is bedeviled by the inability to sleep in Insomniac
Lynda V. Mapes, The Seattle Times, March 21, 2008
“It’s hard to imagine a more frightening affliction than being eaten alive by insomnia, as depicted by author Gayle Greene in her disturbing, important book.” Read more…

“a harrowing memoir,”
“The Long Dark Night of the Soul,” Andrew Stark, Wall Street Journal
February 29, 2008; Page W4

“Sleepless in America,” Francine Prose

Shut-eye—and how it eludes us—is the eye-opening subject of a fascinating new book…. Greene combines personal experience with “total immersion” research to examine a syndrome that has too often been misunderstood and dismissed by the medical establishment and by those lucky souls who simply shut their eyes and drift off…. Insomniac is far too interesting to lull you into dreamland, but it will certainly engage and comfort you—and keep you company—during those long dark hours that the clock ticks off till dawn.” O, The Oprah Magazine, March 2008

“An honest, passionate, and relentless quest.”–Kirkis Reviews, Feb. 15, 2008

Starred review, Publisher’s Weekly

No one can describe a journey better than someone who’s made the trip, and insomniac Greene’s exploration of the disorder is both fascinating and disturbing. Many people, including doctors and insomniacs themselves, believe that sleeplessness is the patient’s fault: too much caffeine and stress, irregular bedtimes, lack of exercise. In fact, no one knows what causes it, but the effects of insomnia are clear: as Greene, a professor of literature and women’s studies at Scripps College, shows, sleep deprivation kills creativity, reduces levels of the hormones needed to repair cells and is directly linked to weight gain and memory loss, high blood pressure and diabetes. Insomniacs are usually referred to mental health practitioners or the growing number of sleep labs offering behavior modification or drugs (which, for Greene, have always “buil[t] tolerance, and rapidly,” necessitating ever-larger doses). “This is a somewhat cranky book,” Greene admits, and rightly so. “You can’t live with this problem as long as I have, you can’t be blown off and written off as many times as I have, and not get cross.” Supplementing her own experience with that of other chronic insomniacs and a look at the science of sleep, Greene offers an enjoyable and informative account that will provoke even readers who get their full eight hours a night. Read More…

Starred review, Library Journal

Although the topic of insomnia might seem to lend itself to a put-you-to-sleep treatment, this engrossing, easy-to-read study addresses the multifaceted subject with wit and wide-ranging scholarship. Greene (literature & women’s studies, Scripps Coll., Claremont, CA; The Woman Who Knew Too Much: Alice Stewart and the Secrets of Radiation) has lived with insomnia for as long as she can remember, and in this engaging treatise-which she describes as “very personal…wrung out of my life’s blood”-she takes readers into the world of sleep research, sleep clinics, pharmaceuticals, sleeping potions, alternative medicine, and sleep physiology and psychology. Throughout, she demonstrates in-depth knowledge of the latest and most comprehensive research efforts in understanding this extremely painful,even life-threatening condition. Nontechnical in its approach, the book is completely accessible to the general reader and should prove enlightening to anyone with an interest in insomnia and sleep studies.Unfortunately, no solution it offers ultimately advances beyond the W.C.Fields Chapter 1 epigram: “The cure for insomnia? Get plenty of sleep.” Highly recommended as the up-to-date summation of what is known about insomnia.
-James Swanton, Harlem Hosp. Lib., New York. Read More…

Science A Go Go
With tens of millions of sufferers, chronic insomnia has become a problem of epidemic proportions – but you wouldn’t know it. Sufferers of this debilitating condition have to suffer in silence and just get on with their lives as though nothing is wrong. Now, Gayle Greene… breaks the silence in an effort to increase understanding and cease the trivialization of a condition that is both dangerous to sufferers and those around them…. Greene’s discussions with neurologists, psychotherapists, sleep researchers, and doctors have provided her with an invaluable road map that will help insomniacs avoid the many pitfalls involved in choosing the right treatment for their condition. Read more…

“The book thoroughly investigates the current medical research on the disorder.”
Sarah Fay, “Sleepless Nights,” American Scholar, April 2008

Amazon Reviews

Beyond saying “no” to naps, February 6, 2008
By Lois Maharg

Gayle Greene does a first-rate job of putting a human face on insomnia, an affliction often described in dry, impersonal terms. A lifelong insomniac, Greene approaches her subject not from the strictly medical perspective proffered in self-help books but from the perspective of one who has been there and done that – and has a great deal to say about aspects of insomnia which ordinarily are overlooked. She speaks with conviction and her voice is consistent throughout the book. This is no mean feat: Greene integrates her own story and the narratives of other insomniacs with lots of scientific material. Her language is clean and jargon-free, and passionate and analytical, by turns — exactly what one looks for in a work that aims to inform and persuade.In addition, Greene’s book offers a powerful critique of a medical establishment that historically has regarded insomnia as “all in the head.” In fact, the physiological underpinnings of insomnia are what most insomniacs are waiting to hear about. Yet research in this important area has lagged. Greene’s book gives us the inside scoop on why. She attended conferences on sleep disorders and gathered a wealth of information, including the sort of candid comments scientists are usually loath to make in public. Greene questioned the experts face to face, and their responses — and the nonverbal messages they conveyed — speak volumes. They’re entertaining, too!Any insomnia sufferer will find plenty of food for thought here. Insomniacs who have felt misunderstood or blamed will feel legitimized in reading Greene’s account of her and others’ experiences as they struggle to cope. Readers may also want to take some of Greene’s suggestions for wooing sleep and try them out for themselves.Finally, Greene’s book poses a challenge to those who are conducting insomnia research. Will scientists in positions of power take note of the funding changes she proposes? Perhaps, she suggests, it’s time for insomniacs to organize and push for them ourselves.

Meaningful sleep deficit, February 6, 2008
By Laura L. Mays Hoopes “woman in science” (Claremont, CA USA) –

Greene embarked on the trail of sleep, having sought it in vain in her own life. If you’ve ever had an insomniac friend or co-worker, you need to read this book. You’ll see yourself in the repeated pseudohelpful comments she has received. Greene didn’t stop with friends,relations, and the internet sites for the sleepless, she looked for answers in every conceivable realm. One of the most amusing of her chapters shows her approaching sleep scientists at a national meeting and being rebuffed once they realized she was a lay person. Greene listened to talks and read papers anyway, and came away with a profound understanding of what the biologists do not know. In Insomniac, she made an eloquent argument for Insomniacs Unlimited to form and ACT UP! Evidently “it’s all in your head” has been far too convenient a diagnosis, and Greene believes a serious search for a molecular mechanism would be timely and productive. I predict most readers will agree. She does not blind you with science, but includes a soupcon of clearly explained brain function from time to time, with clear quagmire warnings. Her description of living with insomnia will make you cry. Well worth reading!

More reader reviews

Sleep Disorder Resources,

“A Book Review of Insomniac”

1001 books “everyone should read” before they die–

Insomniac, a new book, Snoozblog, 2/28/08


Insomniac, a new book, Snoozblog, 2/28/08

Northwest Learning Web, “Favorite Books”
“… a must-read for insomniacs, those who love them, those who (try to ) treat them, and anyone interested in sleep science.”

MAY 30: “Good for People or Good for the System,” CHW Thought Blog

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