I picked up Snooze hoping it was a self-help book that works. I was wrong, it isn’t a self-help book. Instead Snooze is a mix of philosophy and history with a bit of psychology and humor thrown in. This is a work of non-fiction and as with all such books I struggled at the beginning, but by the middle of the book I could not put it down.
Michael McGirr, the author of Snooze is a man I would like to meet. We both struggle with sleep but for different reasons. He discloses his diagnosis of sleep apnea early on. I still do not know the cause of my poor sleep habits. All I know is that often my brain just won’t shut down.
The approach McGirr took writing Snooze is a bit eclectic. He discusses famous men and women from the past who were notorious for their inability to sleep. Examples are Thomas Edison and Florence Nightingale. The author gives abbreviated biographies of both. Many of the notables whose lives we glimpse from the perspective of sleep are writers, others are philosophers, still others people of note.
We are treated to passages from classics such as the Odyssey and the Iliad as well as works from more recent centuries. Each instance allows the reader to understand sleep problems have occurred throughout the ages. Most of the authors are old friends but a couple were noted and their books were added to my list.
McGirr also dabbles into the psychology aspect of sleep. Of course no book touching on any psychological aspect is complete without reference to Freud. The author’s quirky sense of humor may be at its finest on these pages. But, McGirr manages to share important points among the jabs. His discussion of Freud includes a parallel with Aristotle where both posit the theory that one’s dreams reflect the experiences of the individual. Not all subscribe to this philosophy.
The descriptions McGirr gives of René Descartes and David Hume show how philosophers can differ. Descartes is famous for the quote “I think, therefore I am” while Hume, according to McGirr, was more of the belief that “I am, therefore I think.” Thus, it is not surprising that the numerous philosophers covered in Snooze have varied beliefs concerning sleep or lack thereof.
However, the book is not always in the past. McGirr treats the modern problems of sleep too. Discussion includes the stages of sleep before REM sleep. The study of REM over the last 50 years is not conclusive. But, a need for enough hours of sleep to reach the REM stage is apparent.
More Sleep Loss Now?
Sleep interruption has occurred for ages, yet the problem seems to be worsening. Consideration is given to the impact not only of light but also the light given off by computers. Yet another culprit is the hectic pace of our lives.
McGirr also covers some of the drugs used to combat sleeplessness. I appreciate the warnings given at the beginning of Snooze as well as the horror stories toward the end telling of the hazards of long-term use of Z-class drugs. I am thankful my docs shy away from continual use of these prescriptions.
Throughout the book, the author blends personal experiences with both the history and the philosophical discussion of sleep. This approach worked for me. I strongly recommend Snooze for anyone interested in psychology, history or philosophy. I have a better understanding of sleep even if I still have trouble surrendering to that state of being.
Sleep disorders are multitudinous and varied. Read Snooze for an insight of sleep.