KIRKUS REVIEWS: The Savvy Insomniac

A thorough guide to the physical and psychological aspects of insomnia.

The National Institutes of Health estimate that 10 percent of the population suffers from chronic insomnia, and yet at least two-thirds of those afflicted do not seek medical help. Instead, the condition wreaks havoc on their physical and emotional states, often beginning in childhood and continuing through adulthood. An insomniac herself, Maharg ably combines memoir with reportage, talking with other sufferers and parsing through a barrage of medical advice on the subject. She’s particularly adept at relaying scientific information clearly, as when she explains the negative effect that a lack of sleep can have, not only on the ability to curb fears but for finding pleasure in positive events. She quotes one expert as saying, “Sleep resets the magnetic north of your emotional compass. With sleep deprivation, you’re all gas pedal and no brake.” A large portion of the book is devoted to combing through the historical and contemporary solutions to the problem. While those afflicted were long told it was simply something in their heads, current practice treats insomnia much more methodically. Maharg excels when she reports on specific treatments that are popular today. For instance, readers will appreciate the detailed way she discusses the many sleeping pills on the market, summarizing their pros and cons. Her book is accessible and the information wisely chosen. She doesn’t merely tell readers to exercise, but gives them suggestions for specific exercises. Maharg is also judicious in that she offers her opinion yet recognizes that the proper solution varies from person to person. She does not, for example, live and die by the 8-hour rule or think that one approach—e.g., pills, yoga, sleep restriction—is the end all, be all. And finally, her message is one of optimism and hope combined with a dose of perspective. While her sleep is still only “on the fragile side of normal,” she says, “I’m light years beyond where I was before.”

A friendly, informative guide for those seeking a good night’s sleep.