Insomnia by Marina Benjamin

5 comments

I read this book because I heard the author on BBC Radio 3 during a program with a title something like “Insomnia and Writing.”  I liked the way Benjamin expressed her thoughts on the subject, so when her book was mentioned I made a note to look for it at the library.  There it was in the system, a slim volume not much more than 100 pages.  I went for it because I am not the best sleeper and I wanted to hear more about the positives which were mentioned in the radio program.

Unless I’m forgetting something, this book is unique in my reading experience.  I can’t describe the ground it covers as well as the introductory Publisher’s Note does, so I will quote it:

“Insomnia is on the rise.  Villainous and unforgiving, it’s the enemy of energy and focus, the thief of our repose.  But can insomnia be an ally, too, a validator of the present moment, of edginess and creativity?  Marina Benjamin takes on her personal experience of the condition–her struggles with it, her insomniac highs, and her dawning awareness that states of sleeplessness grant us invaluable insights into the workings of our unconscious minds.  Although insomnia is rarely entirely welcome, Benjamin treats it less as an affliction than as an encounter she engages with and plumbs.  She adds new dimensions to both our understanding of sleep (and going without it) and of night, and how we perceive darkness.

Along the way, “Insomnia” trips through illuminating material from literature, art, philosophy, psychology, pop culture, and more.  Benjamin pays particular attention to the relationship between women and sleep–Penelope up all night, unraveling her day’s weaving for Odysseus; the Pre-Raphaelite artists’ depictions of deeply sleeping women; and the worries that keep contemporary females awake.  “Insomnia” is an intense, lyrical, witty, and humane exploration of a state we too often consider only superficially.”

Benjamin dedicates her book to her spouse and child:  “For Zzz, a sleeper, and Charlie, intrepid crosser of borders.”  Zzz is oft-mentioned in the book because…there he is, sleeping.

The subjects and musings hop and skip everywhere, as do our minds when we cannot stop thinking and sleep.  Gosh, have I been there but my thoughts don’t stack up.

True story.  I read myself to sleep (and sometimes back to sleep) every night, and that is how I read this book.  Somehow there wasn’t a backlash.

I recommend this book if you have an interest in the subject, but I didn’t need to say that, did I?

 

 

5 comments on “Insomnia by Marina Benjamin”

  1. Teri, insomnia as an encounter rather than an affliction? Wow. As an edge to explore? Wow. It sounds very, very intriguing. I, blissfully, inherited my mother’s ability to sleep so rarely suffer from insomnia but still find myself wanting to explore. Thank you for this.

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    1. Hmm…perhaps I should have recommended the book to a larger audience, one which is interested in liminal space. Now that I think of it, the Surrealists were absorbed by capturing the unconscious by carefully attending to the state of mind which occurs between “awake” and “asleep”.

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  2. I too struggle with insomnia even with medication. I sometimes override the medication completely, and I never sleep soundly through an entire night. I definitely will read the book. I’d love to see insomnia as my friend! Thanks for the review.

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  3. Hi Teri, what an intriguing subject. I have a very inconsistent relationship with sleep. Sometimes I can’t get my mind to shut off, and other times I am out before my head hits the pillow. I have learned to allow what is happening to just sort of be what is happening- and sometimes I measure how I am doing with my responsibilities and life choices based on how well I am or am not sleeping… Mostly though, I try to create some sense of balance. Although I may not have much control over the quality of my sleep, I can sometimes over-ride additional stress by remembering that it will likely even out at some point. If I find myself totally out of balance, I usually practice Yoga Nidra (a type of relaxing yogic sleep guided meditation) or some gentle, restorative stretches to make up for my exhaustion…. Anyway, way to rambly of a response- but the seep/insomnia cycle is such a huge part of all of our lives, it is super interesting to think about…

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    1. Meredith, this is the second time in the last couple of weeks I have read something someone has written about a connection between yoga and sleep! Zzz…

      This book gives no tips; the closest Benjamin gets to practicalities is when she describes some of her experience with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I think it’s safe to conclude that she hated it. In the acknowledgments afterward, she expresses gratitude to the other people who suffered through it with her.

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