Friday, September 5, 2008

Review: The Insomniac's Best Friend

Being an insomnia sufferer, I've been intrigued by this book ever since I saw it in the UK. It was the cover, and its clever drawing, that first attracted me. Having now acquired and read a copy of the book (mostly in the wee hours of the morning when I can't sleep) I have to say I've been disappointed. Brown has set out to write a book that tries to be many things: a memoir, a catalog of remedies, a discussion of theories of sleeplessness. As so often happens in these cases, the book doesn't really manage to do any of the above tremendously well. It provides a little of all of the above, but most remain unsatisfying. Brown herself is an insomnia sufferer, and thus, she speaks from experience. She is not afraid to give her personal evaluation of products and methods, noting what worked for her and what did not, but she is also always careful to note that what worked for her is not necessarily going to be the best for others. That said, it is important to recognize that Brown's approach is decidedly pro-complementary therapies, and she has little use for sleeping pills. Introducing the reader to new complementary therapies that he or she might not have yet considered is likely the book's most significant contribution, and Brown has taken great care to provide a comprehensive appendix of remedies, specialists, and resources for insomniacs. What I found most difficult to accept about this book, however, is that one of Brown's main contentions is that one of the best things an insomniac can do is to release their anxiety about not sleeping. To a point, that is certainly correct. It's hard to sleep when one is anxious about not sleeping. But Brown seems to take this notion a step further, suggesting that if people give themselves permission to not try to live up to an 8 hours/night standard, this will help alleviate much of their mental anguish. But insomniacs aren't upset or anxious about not sleeping because they're not living up to a stated ideal. Rather, people know just how miserable they'll be the next day if they don't get a certain amount of sleep, and giving oneself permission to not sleep is not going to help that. In sum, people who are looking for new alternative and non-Western approaches to dealing with insomnia will find a good catalogue of remedies here. Those who want to consider drug therapies along with complementary treatments may be better served elsewhere.

Lynda Brown, The Insomniac's Best Friend (Thorsons, 2004) ISBN: 0007163851

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