Each night in America, according to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 70 million people have trouble sleeping. Patricia Morrisroe is one of them, and she details her lifelong struggle with slumber in "Wide Awake: A Memoir of Insomnia" (Spiegel & Grau, $25). Morrisroe, the author of "Mapplethorpe: A Biography" and a contributor to New York magazine, Vanity Fair and Vogue, takes readers along as she undergoes hypnosis, checks into the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for an overnight evaluation and even meets up with magician and sleep-slayer David Blaine during her quest for rest. In a recent telephone conversation, Morrisroe discussed the disorder that makes her feel "drunk with sleeplessness" and her experience with the $20-million industry aimed at the elusive good night's sleep.
Why do we need sleep?
No one really knows - this is still a great mystery! The latest thought is that it boosts memory and learning, but scientists still aren't really certain.
Who seems to have the most trouble when it comes to sleep?
People who have to do the late shift or rotating shifts have it very difficult. Most people with insomnia have family history. They seem to have a predisposition to being easily hyper-aroused. For example, my grandfather would write opera librettos at night. There was always someone up in the middle of the night at my house.
Have humans ever had it easy when it comes to sleep?
No, sleep has always been a challenge. First, you need a quiet place, and that's not always easy to find. In olden times, people worried about beasts coming after them in the middle of the night. Communal beds, gnats, bedbugs - it hasn't ever been easy. Technology and the amount of travel that goes on today have upped the ante, but we have never gotten enough sleep.
This question is also one of your chapter titles: Are sleeping pills more dangerous than al-Qaida?
There is a huge divide between doctors who are for and against sleeping pills. Those who are pro-pills usually happen to be consultants for the drug companies. People with sleep-onset insomnia tend to respond best to pills, but pills aren't great at maintaining sleep. They only provide 11.4 minutes of sleep over the placebo effect, so they don't seem to help that much, and they can impair memory during the day. So are you really better off? I tried them, and they didn't work for me.
What is the scariest thing you learned about the sleep industry?
We may soon be taking awake drugs instead of sleep drugs, and the concept of these wake-promoting drugs is terrifying to me. This is almost like giving up.
How are you sleeping these days?
Through the book, I learned to sleep better. I think I needed to gain control and own my insomnia. I'll never be a champion sleeper, but I'll never be a champion runner, either, and I'm fine with that. I was doing well for a while, until I started talking about the book this month. It's hard to sleep when talking nonstop about insomnia!