By Gayle Greene
520 pages. University of California Press.
In Charles Simic's poem "Hotel Insomnia," the wakeful poet overhears the sobs of a child and imagines that the sobs are his own. These unhappy nocturnal cries echo through Insomniac (University of California Press), Gayle Greene's passionate exploration of the reasons sleep eludes us and of how much "and little" we know about this exasperating and potentially life-ruining condition ("The first thing to go is your sense of humor"). A chronic insomniac, 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. She interviews doctors and fellow sufferers, looks at brain scans, and visits sleep clinics. She ponders stress, hormones, and heredity; the efficacy of alternative remedies and behavioral modification; the unpredictable effects of sleeping pills; and the complex relationship between insomnia and depression. 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 until dawn.