Wild Nights

How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World


By Benjamin Reiss

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Why the modern world forgot how to sleep
Why is sleep frustrating for so many people? Why do we spend so much time and money managing and medicating it, and training ourselves and our children to do it correctly? In Wild Nights, Benjamin Reiss finds answers in sleep’s hidden history — one that leads to our present, sleep-obsessed society, its tacitly accepted rules, and their troubling consequences.

Today we define a good night’s sleep very narrowly: eight hours in one shot, sealed off in private bedrooms, children apart from parents. But for most of human history, practically no one slept this way. Tracing sleep’s transformation since the dawn of the industrial age, Reiss weaves together insights from literature, social and medical history, and cutting-edge science to show how and why we have tried and failed to tame sleep. In lyrical prose, he leads readers from bedrooms and laboratories to factories and battlefields to Henry David Thoreau’s famous cabin at Walden Pond, telling the stories of troubled sleepers, hibernating peasants, sleepwalking preachers, cave-dwelling sleep researchers, slaves who led nighttime uprisings, rebellious workers, spectacularly frazzled parents, and utopian dreamers. We are hardly the first people, Reiss makes clear, to chafe against our modern rules for sleeping.

A stirring testament to sleep’s diversity, Wild Nights offers a profound reminder that in the vulnerability of slumber we can find our shared humanity. By peeling back the covers of history, Reiss recaptures sleep’s mystery and grandeur and offers hope to weary readers: as sleep was transformed once before, so too can it change today.


Wild nights—Wild nights!

Were I with thee

Wild nights should be

Our luxury!

Futile—the winds—

To a Heart in port—

Done with the Compass—

Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden—

Ah—the Sea!

Might I but moor—tonight—

In thee!

—Emily Dickinson

In wildness is the preservation of the world.

—Henry David Thoreau


The Gates of Sleep

Sleep is both a universal need and a freely available resource for all societies and even species. So why is it the source of frustration for so many people today? Why do we spend so much time trying to manage it and medicate it, and training ourselves—and our children—how to do it correctly? And why do so many of us feel that, despite all our efforts to tame our sleep, it's fundamentally beyond our control?

The answers have more to do with the world we've built for ourselves over time—and the strangely restrictive place within it that we've reserved for sleep—than with any deficiency in our bodies. Our culture prides itself on variety and choice: what we buy, how we vote, what we eat, what we believe, whom we love, and how we lead our lives are all supposed to be matters of individual inclination—at least for those who can afford to choose. And yet of all the major daily human activities in much of North America and Europe, and increasingly elsewhere in the world, the topic of sleep inspires a numbing conformity to a one-size-fits-all standard-issue package. Sleeping in one straight shot through the night—"consolidated" sleep—has become a near-universal expectation, even for those whose bodies and minds seem naturally inclined to shut down and switch back on differently. Would-be sleepers are encouraged to develop rigid bedtime routines, regardless of season or setting. Sleep is supposed to occur in a private and almost neurotically sealed space, with, at most, two consenting adults sharing a bed. Children are to be trained from a very early age to reproduce these features of "normal" sleep, and we insist that they do so in isolation from adults. Should any of us fail to achieve the expected results, we call our sleep disordered and resort to medication or reprogramming, or we just resign ourselves to feeling miserable.

What is strangest about these expectations and social rules is that for all their power today, at most times and in most places in human history, practically no one followed any of them. And we now cling to them neurotically even as our world throws up new challenges to regular sleep: "flexible" work times, distracting and hyperstimulating electronic devices, ever more powerful caffeinated beverages, high-speed travel across time zones, and an unsleeping world of commerce, information, and entertainment that beckons us across the digital highway at every moment. The poor fit between the rules for "normal" sleep and the lives so many of us lead induces a self-perpetuating pattern of worry and micromanagement. Battering our sleep with rules, training manuals, rituals, and commercial sleep products like anti-snoring pillows and memory foam mattresses only leads us to be more intolerant of small changes to routine and environment, creating a society of fussy, stressed-out sleepers. And for those who, for reasons of biology or circumstance, can't sleep by the rules, the consequences are worse.

That is because, like all rules, the ones that govern sleep create conflicts: between the body and the mind, between bodies and the sleeping environment, and among social groups who are differently affected by the rules. For those who can't adapt to the rules, those who refuse, or those who are denied the time and space to sleep normally, sleep becomes an ordeal. These conflicts, in a sense, are as much the source of our current sleep troubles as purely medical issues are. Or rather, by some strange alchemy, the social and psychological problems created by our attempts to define and enforce what is normal are often interpreted as medical problems.

On a sultry night in New Orleans in late August 2005, I found myself unwillingly enrolled in a crash course on both the tenacity and the fragility of the rules that govern sleep. On that night, my wife, Devora, and I packed up our car with suitcases, some books, snacks, CDs, and toys for the kids, then caught a few hours of sleep before heading out at four in the morning. Like virtually everyone else who had a car, enough money to reserve hotel space, and no serious physical infirmities or essential obligations in the city, we were taking part in a mass exodus. Hurricane Katrina was bearing down, and suddenly we were rudely cast outside the gates of normal sleep, trying to find our way back in.

Yet we were fortunate. Our two children were young enough not to be overly anxious about the storm—for them it was an adventure. We had a car and some money in the bank. We had devoted family and friends far from the storm's path who were ready to help in whatever way they could. I had professional connections to people who could help me get back on my feet if disaster struck. But what we thought most about in the hours leading up to our evacuation was where we would sleep.

Shelter is an obvious human need, one that grows most intense during slumber. Our defenses are down, our responsiveness to stimuli dramatically reduced, and our need for protection therefore increased. Every species has a way of dealing with this vulnerability: ducks sleep in a row, with the ones on the edge keeping an outer eye open; dolphins and some whales sleep with only half the brain at a time; and the sleeping parrot fish secretes a packet of foul-tasting slime around its body to ward off predators. Human defenses against the vulnerability of sleep have involved more complicated controls: caves at first, but now locked homes, alarm and surveillance systems, and police to protect against threats to physical safety along with a host of sanitary measures to make sleep restorative rather than unhealthful. Many of these defenses broke down during Hurricane Katrina, as the mad scramble for shelter made clear to everyone. With some effort capped by a grueling slow-motion highway exodus, those with enough resources could find safe sleep; those who lacked them found wretched sleeping conditions in the New Orleans Superdome or the Convention Center, where heat, hunger, noise, stench, and fear made sleep all but impossible.

The need to find safe sleeping accommodations made our trek understandable, even inevitable. But much of our effort went toward something else, toward fulfilling a "need" that was culturally conditioned rather than biologically dictated: Devora and I were intent on finding a hotel spread out of harm's way that would allow the kids their own sleeping spaces apart from their parents and from each other. Part of this desire was rational: we wanted a space large enough that we could shelter the kids from our own anxious conversations. But on another, semiconscious level we simply wanted to re-create, on the fly, the aspects of "normal" sleep that bear most directly on children. Like so many other parents, we had spent countless painful nights trying first one method and then another to teach our children to sleep on their own, apart from us, in one straight shot through the night, at regularly scheduled times. We had achieved the sleep schedule and configuration of a typical middle-class American family, and we didn't want the storm to put all that effort to waste.

The rules we were trying to uphold have little to do with innate needs; in fact, they would seem strange to most societies across human history. In most times and places, sleep was social, with families, and sometimes even strangers, sharing common sleeping spaces; it was generally distributed in several chunks throughout the day and night; and its duration and patterning varied greatly depending on the season, patterns of natural lighting, the availability of resources, and other environmental cues. Only over the past few hundred years did sleep come to be privatized, packaged into one standard time slot, and removed from nature's great rhythmic cycles of temperature and light. Wrenching sleep out of these patterns, putting it in a box, shutting it off from social life, and making it conform to a set of demands that have little to do with circadian and other natural forces are all hallmarks of modern sleep. As a society, most of us assent to these rules without seeing them as rules but rather as part of nature itself.

Disasters have a way of laying bare all that we take for granted: what we assume is normal, natural, or even necessary suddenly appears to be a flimsy construction, part of our desire to maintain a particular way of life rather than a requirement for maintaining life itself. Surveying a scene of Katrina evacuees huddled on the floor in a Houston arena, former First Lady Barbara Bush, the mother of President George W. Bush, cast the evacuees' abnormal sleeping arrangements as natural—for them: "So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway. So this is working out very well for them." The rules, it seems, apply only to us. For the comfortable and the privileged, the obsession with maintaining the rules defining normal sleep is more about securing a place in the established social order than about basic physical well-being. Bush's comments were part of a centuries-long script in which those who can control their own sleeping conditions define what a proper, civilized way of life is supposed to look like, in part by distinguishing their own sleep from that of the uncivilized and the downtrodden.

Except that the rules don't seem to be working very well, even for those who can afford to play by them, and even when they aren't disrupted by disasters. A significant part of the contemporary obsession with sleep is the sense that we're somehow doing it wrong. Despite all of the sleep-related medical, scientific, and technological advances over the past two centuries, and despite the billions of dollars poured into what one journalist called the "sleep-industrial complex"—in the form of pills, mattresses, apps, wearable electronics, self-help books, breathing machines, and even "smart beds" that monitor our every move at night—a nagging culture-wide anxiety that we're in the midst of a sleep crisis persists. Popular books and magazine articles proclaim a war on sleep; over 2,500 sleep clinics in the United States alone treat millions of patients; and in general the weirdest person at a dinner party is the one who says she sleeps like a baby every night. (Not that babies sleep well.)

But are we sleeping less than our ancestors—or are we just more anxious about it? Attempts to answer this question have been inconclusive, if not contradictory. Twenty percent of American adults responding to a National Sleep Foundation poll reported sleeping less than six hours per night in 2009; about a decade earlier, it had been only 12 percent, indicating a sharp increase. More systematic research published in the journals Sleep and Sleep Medicine Reviews called that finding into question, with two teams of researchers concluding that there had been little change in average sleep duration over recent decades.

The lack of clear consensus might lead one to be skeptical of the notion of a raging epidemic of sleep deprivation, especially when one considers the advantages that contemporary, middle-class sleepers have over their ancestors and over less fortunate people worldwide today. Advances in hygiene, fireproofing, policing, and overall standard of living arguably make sound sleep available to a larger number of people than ever before. Labor laws in the most economically dominant nations protect most citizens from the brutal assaults on their circadian rhythms that were common in the peak era of industrialization in the West—and that have now been directed at workers in nations that are trying to catch up to Western economic standards. But whether or not our society is suffering a significant decline in the quantity of sleep, we seem to be experiencing an erosion in the quality of sleep.

This is not to deny the reality of what we medically label "sleep disorders," the genuine distress they cause, or the efficacy of some of the medical and other solutions we propose for them—far from it. Yet in a time when more than seventy recognized sleep disorders are being treated in thousands of clinics, and billions are spent annually on sleeping pills, we might question what produced all the trouble, and whether our frenzied attempts to tame sleep have made the problem better or worse. The obsessiveness and even panic attending much contemporary discussion of sleep, as well as our frantic and overwrought attempts to tame it and make it play by the rules, correspond to a feeling that sleep simply won't bend to our collective will, rather than to a quantifiable reduction in sleeping hours across contemporary society. Because sleep is one of the great psychosomatic enterprises—meaning that it's a physiological state that is powerfully affected by psychological factors—the panic and obsessiveness may well be creating a spike in genuine sleep disorders rather than the other way around.

Media reports of a "sleep crisis" are correct to identify an alarming state of affairs, but by suggesting simply that "we"—usually an economically secure readership—don't get enough sleep, they misidentify the crisis and so may only feed it. In reality our society is undergoing two sleep crises: a psychological struggle, in which those who live in relative states of comfort try to wrestle their sleep into submission, and a more existential struggle experienced by those who are expected to sleep by the rules of others yet are denied the time, space, and security to do so. What links these two sets of struggles is the growing economization of sleep, a process begun in the industrial revolution and accelerating today. On the one hand, sleep is made to work for profit; on the other, a host of commercial products (from pills to wearable sleep-tracking devices) promise the illusion of sleep on demand.

This book recovers some of sleep's hidden history—one that leads to our present, sleep-obsessed society, its tacitly accepted rules, and their consequences. It tries to answer the riddle of why, at a time in human history when comfortable and hygienic sleeping conditions are more widely available than ever, and our medical and scientific understanding of sleep's functions and inner workings has advanced exponentially, sleep has become such a battleground. While doing so, it keeps an eye on the social divisions underlying our rules for standard-issue sleep, as well as the consequences for those who can't, or won't, sleep by the rules.

What this book won't do is tell you the correct, or best, or most natural way to sleep. The search for "natural" sleep patterns, which has preoccupied sleep researchers from the nineteenth century onward, has paradoxically played a role in sleep's growing disconnection from natural systems. Human sleep patterns are remarkably flexible, which is part of what has allowed our species to flourish in so many different climates and circumstances. This flexibility helps to explain the extreme diversity of sleeping arrangements around the world and through history: some societies nap while some don't; some sleep in large groups, others more or less alone; some naked, some clothed; some in public, some hidden. Instead of proposing a "new normal"—an idea about sleep that is supposedly the most natural or healthful way to do it—I want to move beyond the idea that there is a correct way to sleep, a single healthy way to sleep, a natural or restorative way to sleep. Instead, this book is a testament to sleep's amazing diversity—and an account of how that diversity has become restricted in a way that disadvantages certain sleepers: those whose bodies seem to be wired to sleep differently, or who lack the resources and amenities needed to sleep "normally."

Wild Nights explains how we inherited rules that put extreme pressure on sleep, the impact these rules and our frantic responses to them have had on different groups of people through history (especially over the past two hundred years or so), and—following historical trajectories forward—the future versions of sleep that might be emerging.

Although there is no single historical cause for the contemporary obsession with taming sleep, its thickest roots—especially in North America and Europe—reach back to the massive changes in technology and the organization of labor that took place in the late eighteenth and especially the nineteenth centuries. Taken together, these developments fundamentally altered the human experience of time and expectations for how bodies should move through it.

What we now think of as "time" is largely an invention of the industrial age. Factories and the economic system that grew around them in the nineteenth century depended on disconnecting workers' sense of time from the natural rhythms of day changing into night and season into season. Instead of waking more or less when the sun rose and dropping off not long after it set, sleeping more in the lean winter months and less in harvest times, and punctuating their days with naps, workers had to learn to rise consistently to the sound of a factory bell and organize their downtime accordingly. Schedules for travel, school, and commerce followed these industrial patterns of uniform clock time: a time newly homogeneous across season, region, or profession. When employers demanded too much of the workers' time, depriving them of adequate sleep, the workers advocated for sleep that was more standardized, rather than less. What they pictured was a time that was reserved exclusively for sleep, a time both demanded by industry and made impossible by it. The eight-hour ideal as we know it is largely a result of this push and pull between management and labor.

In order for the system to work, with workers getting to the factory floor at the appropriate time, so that the factories could be productive throughout the year, sleep had to be subjected to increasing levels of control. For this to happen, sleep had to be understood as a medical issue that could be empirically observed, manipulated, and corrected. Much of the biomedical research into sleep from the late nineteenth century until the present day has been underwritten by businesses with an interest in understanding how to manipulate or exploit body rhythms to make workers more efficient—as well as by the military, which wants to create armies of flexibly alert fighters. Sleep science emerged as a profound response to the industrial age, in which the rhythms of daily life came unstuck from the internal rhythms of workers, and experts were needed to understand what was happening in order to repair the damage.

This industrial manipulation of time was intensified by the spread of electricity and powerful artificial lighting, from the widespread use of gaslight early in the nineteenth century to electric lighting at the turn of the twentieth—and now the ubiquitous flood of blue light emanating from electronic screens. Historians and anthropologists, as well as many scientific sleep researchers, have begun to explore the profound effects of artificial lighting and the electrification of domestic spaces on sleep patterns. Even today, most societies that have not experienced the widespread introduction of electricity into homes tend to distribute sleep in several segments throughout the day and night; yet in Western Europe and North America, across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, packaging one's sleep in one bundle quickly became the norm. Historian Roger Ekirch's influential argument is that before the industrial age, most societies practiced "segmented sleep" at night, in which sleep came in two installments, with an interval of quiet wakefulness. As powerful new light sources pushed back the boundaries of night, however, people were induced to stay up later, pushing the first installment of sleep forward until that interval was lost. Sleep now had to be stuffed into one package. This novel arrangement put extreme pressure on those whose circadian rhythms simply couldn't adapt to this historically novel expectation, leading to a spike in medical complaints about poor sleeping.

Industrialization, powerful lighting, and electrification also brought with them a parade of gadgets and devices with which nineteenth- and twentieth-century westerners could amuse themselves, increasingly with little regard for time of day. We are all familiar with the inducements to fall into social media and streamed entertainments well past bedtime; but people have been complaining about being tempted to keep unseasonable hours since cities and homes were first lit up by gaslight in the late eighteenth century. Reading a book or magazine at night, listening to a phonograph or viewing a magic lantern or stereograph, or even walking down a well-lit street to a tavern or theater: these quaint-sounding activities hardly seem like disruptive forces today, but they were as novel and (over)stimulating for many in the nineteenth century as surfing the Web was at the turn of the twenty-first. And just as the Internet seems to overwhelm our circuits with its constant news feeds and status updates, so nineteenth-century Americans and Europeans complained about the ubiquity of a news cycle driven by telegraphy, cheap print, and rapid delivery via trains and canals. Information overload has been connected to sleep loss for centuries.

Electricity and artificial light also affected the spatial arrangements associated with sleep, especially within middle-class families, which were acquiring larger and more autonomous homes as industrial wealth spread through society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The key development—so obvious that many of us can barely see it as anything other than natural—was the spatial separation of parents or other adult caretakers from children throughout the night. Why, given that virtually no society anywhere before the nineteenth-century West insisted on children sleeping alone, did this bizarre ideal take hold? One factor is that parents, given access to new entertainment technologies in the home, wanted a space of their own to stay up late once children went to bed.

The deeper issue was their society's emphasis on privacy, a value that is most dear at night. The sociologist Norbert Elias argued in 1939 that for bourgeois European families, sleeping in private, out of view of others, became a hallmark of "civilization" across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As with other manners, one needed to be taught how to do this from an early age. Accordingly, each child had to be trained to go to bed in his or her own room and stay there through the night. And so the child's bed became a central training ground for a society of sturdy, solitary sleepers—people who attended to their bodily needs out of view of others. As I explain in Chapter Five, sleep dogma—reinforced across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by health reformers, psychologists, and pediatricians—promoted the idea of consolidated nighttime sleep for children in their own rooms: a very weird arrangement by historical and cross-cultural measures. The goal was the creation of hearty, autonomous, self-willed adults who could march off confidently into the workforce, in full possession of their powers to sleep and wake when instructed, and careful not to let themselves drop off in public. But as any parent can attest, no young child wants to sleep alone through the night: most have to be trained according to a very strict routine. The expectation for solitary childhood sleep thus has tended to produce finicky young sleepers who are easily disturbed by changes in routine or environment: the snoring of others, ticking sounds in the wall, fluctuations in temperature, the wrong firmness of mattress or pillow, the absence of a favorite stuffed animal, and the like. Enforced solitary sleep for children, then, likely fed a culture-wide obsessiveness about sleep, magnifying problems that might not seem so bad in other times and places.

Learning to sleep "normally" means being trained to sleep by the rules of this system as a child, then outfitting yourself with enough space and gear to reproduce it when you're an adult. Those who can't pay their way into normal sleep are left outside the gates, scrambling through odd jobs, undiagnosed health problems, and vulnerable nighttime conditions in which restful slumber is almost unthinkable. And those who, by virtue of inclination or cultural background, sleep differently come to be regarded as backward or even perverse. The sociologist Elias's observation that Europeans defined themselves as civilized in part by doing their sleeping in private also implied that non-Europeans whose sleep did not conform to this standard were defined as "other," somehow primitive or in need of reform; this judgment also applied to Europeans who couldn't afford to do all of their sleeping in private. Scenes of naked "savages" lying on communal sleeping mats (similar to those primarily black and brown bodies that Barbara Bush saw sprawled out after Katrina), African slaves bundled in the holds of slave ships, or poor urban whites sleeping ten or twelve to a room in rickety tenements came to represent all that an ideal white European or American should not be. Accordingly, health reformers and moralizers set about convincing the laboring classes to sleep more privately—as did missionaries and colonial authorities in places where European and American power extended its reach.

And so, in the industrial age, sleeping became subject to novel demands that put pressure on sleep's rhythms, environments, and configurations. The pressures are felt in different ways by different groups—young, old, rich, poor, black, white, female, male—but we've all been dealing with the fallout from the invention of normal sleep in the nineteenth century ever since.

Few people leave detailed records of their sleeping habits and perceptions of sleep; fewer still are attuned to how sleep responds to social change. And so finding first-person accounts of sleep's historical transformation seemed a difficult task. What did it feel like to live through the changes that created modern sleep, to have one's body pushed and pulled by new demands and new distractions, to experience the loss of social sleep, to sense the rhythms of industrial life supplanting those of nature, to be woken by factory bells and train whistles rather than by one's own circadian rhythms or birdcall or sunlight or some elemental need, to be jolted into consciousness by powerful doses of caffeine rather than by the sensations of morning doing what it will to your body?

But seek, and ye shall find: as I was beginning to sketch out my ideas for a history of sleep, I had the good fortune to assign Henry David Thoreau's Walden to my undergraduate students as part of a survey of American literature. I was astonished to find that in all my years of reading and teaching that book, I had completely missed a major concern that was lying right on the surface of the text, in virtually every chapter—something that seemed not only to open a window onto Thoreau's time and place, but to provide a fascinating perspective on my own.


  • "What makes Wild Nights so liberating is that it is descriptive, not prescriptive. It does not hector...It aims, rather, to describe the social history and evolving culture of sleep--through literature, through ethnographies, through old diaries and memoirs and medical texts... [Wild Nights] pops with insight."--Jennifer Senior, New York Times
  • "[Wild Nights] is a new cultural and anthropological examination of sleep through the ages.... Sleep remains a universal experience, but it's lived seven billion different ways. One finishes Wild Nights with the feeling that our modern-day anxieties about sleep are the symptom of another, more complicated disease."—Jacob Silverman, New Republic
  • "Sleep is a culturally fluid phenomenon, reveals Benjamin Reiss in this marvelous scientific and literary study."—Nature
  • "Western society is obsessed with a good night's sleep. To get it, we impose strict prebed rituals and regular wake-up times on ourselves and our children, feeling anxious if we toss and turn in the night. But the idea of a perfect sleep practice is relatively new in human history, Benjamin Reiss explains in his new book Wild Nights."—Sarah Begley, TIME
  • "Get a solid eight hours in, no electronic screens in bed, wake up at the same time every morning, yeah, yeah. We modern fold have it all figured out, don't we? Maybe not, says Reiss, as he explores how getting a good night's sleep evolved and why it varies from one culture and era to the next."—Gemma Tarlach, Discover
  • "In his book on the mysteries of human sleep, [Reiss] looks for guidance to the latest scientific studies, yes, but he also ventures beyond the realm of the scientific, including insights from history and literature."—Science of Us
  • "[Wild Nights is] a great, collective blend of scientific, historical, and literary works that is as well-written and enjoyable as it is provocative and informative.... Undoubtedly, this book is an important contribution for everyone who sleeps, scientists and other citizens alike."—Sleep Health Journal
  • "[Wild Nights] is a captivating examination and Reiss gives readers much to ponder long into the night."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • "[Wild Nights is] a thorough probing into why sleep is such a problem for so many in contemporary society.... A fresh approach to a familiar phenomenon."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Reiss's interdisciplinary approach to the topic offers varied perspectives, compelling anecdotes, and a well-researched bibliography for readers interested in learning more about the global state of sleep affairs."—Library Journal
  • "Engaging our imagination with equal parts history, literature, science, and social criticism, Benjamin Reiss traces our past notions of sleep, from sources as diverse as Thoreau's journals, Balzac's coffee consumption, and Skinner's baby box, to illumine our present views--potentially to transform them."—Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain
  • "Wild Nights is a literary and historical triumph, showing how sleep patterns have been deeply connected to social structures throughout human history. It is a profound and thoroughly readable book."—Carlos H. Schenck, M.D., author of Sleep: The Mysteries, The Problems, The Solutions
  • "Lacking for neither flair nor wit, Reiss shows how deeply embedded sleep, in all of rich complexity, has been in the American past. Wild Nights is nothing short of a tour de force."—A. Roger Ekirch, author of At Day's Close: Night in Times Past
  • "A fascinating look at a phenomenon we have taken for granted. Benjamin Reiss pulls the bedcovers off of sleep, revealing a deep and significant history of Western culture and politics.... Written with subtlety and provocation, this is a must-read for anyone whose head ever hit a pillow."—Lennard J. Davis, author of Enabling Acts and Obsession: A History
  • "Ranging widely across time and cultures, Wild Nights offers a rich perspective on Americans' present-day expectations about a good night's sleep.... This smart and engaging book is an ideal companion for that middle-of-the-night break, as well as for serious thought in the bright light of day."—Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, author of A Taste for Provence and Wild Unrest
  • "A lively, astute, wide-ranging reconnaissance of the attempted re-engineering of modern humanity's sleep habits. Benjamin Reiss pointedly and persuasively questions whether today's 'sleep science' delivers better results than what seemed second nature to our pre-industrial forebears."—Lawrence Buell, Harvard University

On Sale
Mar 7, 2017
Page Count
320 pages
Basic Books

Benjamin Reiss

About the Author

Benjamin Reiss is a professor of English at Emory University. The author of The Showman and the Slave and Theaters of Madness, and the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, he lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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