In Search of Sweet Sleep

An insomniac studies sleep.

by Meredith Maran
Photograph: Photo: Peter Ardito

Determined to slay her lifelong sleep demons, writer Patricia Morrisroe became an expert on insomnia. The result is Wide Awake (Random House), an, um, exhaustively researched, often hilarious memoir that proves useless as a bedtime-reading sleep aid. Here, she takes a break from counting sheep.

More: What surprised you most about the science of shut-eye?
Patricia Morrisroe: I thought everyone needed eight hours of perfect sleep, but that is not true. You need enough rest for you to function well. Some people are just not great sleepers, and they never will be.

That’s why God made sleeping pills, right?
Morrisroe: It turns out we’ve been sold a bill of goods by the pharmaceutical industry. I was stunned to discover that newer pills help you fall asleep faster, but they only extend one’s slumber for about 11 minutes.

More: Eleven minutes? Are you saying that my BFF, Ambien, is a placebo?
Morrisroe: There’s no miracle drug. Sleep is fragile and tenuous—for the 10 days I believed in hypnotherapy, I slept like a baby.

More: You also attempted treatments like brain-music therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Did you find a remedy that worked?
Morrisroe: I tried everything. Finally I walked around the corner to my local Y and took a meditation course. Given that I grew up in the 1960s, I’m surprised it took me so long to attempt it. Meditating made me calmer, which was reflected in my sleep.

More: Is nodding off any easier for you these days?
Morrisroe: I don’t panic anymore when I can’t sleep for a few nights; the fear that one bad night might turn into many will land you in a mental institution. I know insomnia won’t kill me.

Originally published in the May 2010 issue of More.

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