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Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of a Good Night’s Rest

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A useful and fascinating tour of sleep disorders from the perspective of a narcoleptic science journalist. This interview with the author is a fine introduction to the book.

Narcolepsy is not just about falling asleep when you shouldn’t, but about lousy overall regulation of sleep: narcoleptics usually can’t sleep when they want to any more than they can stay awake when they need to. It is one of several overlapping disorders that screw with the neurology and endocrinology of sleep regulation and circadian rhythms. As Nicholls learned this for himself, he was inspired to write about all of the many underestimated medical causes of messed up sleep, creating a book that should be read by anyone who has ever slept badly. It’s thorough, funny, erudite and reassuringly free of crank theories. He does a particularly good job of putting sleep science in historical context, explaining how we discovered what little we know. Some of the stories of pioneering sleep research are both amazing and surprisingly recent.

item type
a book
Henry Nicholls
Basic Books


Whether it’s a bout of bad jet lag or a stress-induced all-nighter, we’ve all suffered from nights that left us feeling less than well-rested. But for some people, getting a bad night’s sleep isn’t just an inconvenience: it’s a nightmare. In Sleepyhead, science writer Henry Nicholls uses his own experience with chronic narcolepsy as a gateway to better understanding the cryptic, curious, and relatively uncharted world of sleep disorders. We meet insomniacs who can’t get any sleep, narcoleptics who can’t control when they sleep, and sleep apnea victims who nearly suffocate in their sleep. We learn the underlying difference between morning larks and night owls; why our sleeping habits shift as we grow older; and the evolutionary significance of REM sleep and dreaming. Charming, eye-opening, and deeply humanizing, Sleepyhead will help us all uncover the secrets of a good night’s sleep.

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  1. Anxiety & Chronic Pain
  2. The Insomnia Guide