Book Review: Sleepyhead by Henry Nicholls

What’s it about?

When Henry Nicholls was twenty-one, he was diagnosed with narcolepsy; a medical condition that means he falls asleep with no warning. This can be profoundly disabling, especially as its accompanied by poor night-time sleep, hallucinations, sleep paralysis, and cataplexy.

In this book, Nicholls explores the science behind sleep disorders, finding that around half of us will suffer from a condition in our lifetimes.

My thoughts

I picked this book up because I have narcolepsy and I know very little about it. I kept reading because this is one of the warmest, most illuminating books I’ve read in a very long time. I have not stopped talking about this book since I started reading it.

This is not just a book for those with a sleep disorder, although chances are you might actually have one yourself. Nicholls takes his own narcolepsy as a starting point for this look at sleep disorders as a whole, taking in sleep apnoea and insomnia, as well as sleep deprivation, healthy sleep and how to get it. I hadn’t previously realised firstly how under-researched sleep is, and secondly, how interconnected all of these conditions are. Narcolepsy and insomnia are not the polar opposites you’d think; I have absolutely no problem getting to sleep but staying asleep is another matter. Sometimes when I jolt awake for no reason at 3am, I cannot for the life of me fall back asleep for hours. To cap it all, If I wake up anytime past 5am, I know I won’t be going back to sleep, which has meant I’ve seen a fair few sunrises in my time.

Nicholls weaves personal recollections, interviews with those who have the disorders and those who study them, and current medical thinking into the story. Quite a few of the narcolepsy tales resonated with me personally- incredibly vivid dreams, anyone?-  but the other stories rang multiple bells too. A friend once told me about the unbelievably frustrating restless legs syndrome she’d endured through both her pregnancies; Nicholls writes about how its most likely to be an abnormality of iron metabolism, and especially common in pregnancy. A close female relative of mine suffers with horrible insomnia; this is likely to be linked to her post-menopausal status.

This is a fascinating book and I can’t recommend it enough. I really feel like everyone should read it, as everyone will know someone with a sleep disorder. From a personal point of view, I find that my condition is often not taken seriously, especially by my own family. Reading this book may well help people who know me to get a glimpse into what it’s like in my brain.

Would I recommend it? 

Yes, yes, yes.

So much so that I’m going to give my copy away.

To enter the giveaway, make sure you like my Life Through Books Facebook page, and then just like and comment the Facebook post of this review. I’ll pick a winner at random a week after the review goes up. Full T&Cs here.

Sleepyhead by Henry Nicholls is published by Profile Books priced £16.99.


4 thoughts on “Book Review: Sleepyhead by Henry Nicholls

Add yours

  1. The Promise of Sleep by William Dement was a book I found very useful when I had serious stress-related insomnia while I was still working. Probably a bit dated in terms of recent research but he’s one of the world experts on sleep…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will look that one up! To be honest, I’ve found that there’s not a lot of sleep research going on at the moment. I read one paper that suggested my narcolepsy was caused by a spider bite!


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