25 August 2014

Sleep in the Media || Book Review || Wide Awake and Dreaming

Wide Awake and Dreaming: A Memoir of Narcolepsy
Julie Flygare

Who should read this book?
Anyone with an interest in compelling memoirs would find this book completely fascinating and--ironically perhaps--eye opening. Julie Flygare tells the curious tale of her entree into the quasi-real world of narcolepsy: the strange markers of its onset, how it progressed while she was up to her eyeballs in law school studies, its impact on her social and work life, and where her experience with this rare disorder has taken her since she graduated with a law degree in 2009.

Flygare is now a leading spokesperson for the Narcolepsy Network and helped to establish the first Sleep Walk in Washington DC in 2011. Perhaps one of her most important jobs as spokesperson for sleep disorders has been her collaboration with Harvard Medical School researchers over the last four years in the form of a 5-hour educational workshop based on her narcolepsy experience, now a required educational component for all Harvard Medical School students. It's no small feat to train medical practitioners to recognize the value of sleep: currently, many if not most primary care physicians and specialists in all branches of medicine overlook the critical role sleep plays in endocrinological, neurological, psychological, respiratory, immunological and cardiopulmonary function. Sleep is a whole body process that cannot be ignored or replaced with medication.

Why should you read this book?
I would personally give this book to every person I know who has ever made a wisecrack or insensitive comment about sleep disorders (narcolepsy, in particular, with its unfortunate and insensitive "Mr. Magoo" representation in our sleep-deprived culture) so that they can understand how real, how challenging and how mystifying this illness is. My own experiences are extremely mild compared to Flygare's, for which I am ever so thankful. At the same time, living with this invisible and incurable condition has its own challenges, not least of which is the balance one must strike between the needs of the body and mind while living in a culture which doesn't value sleep and which tends to judge those who take sleep seriously as somehow being lazy, stupid or unstable. Flygare's book is an important entry in the chronicles of contemporary sleep medicine.