Leader persuasively links the sleep-disturbing effects of guilt to a crisis in what he calls “the interpellative, summoning function of language”. Put simply: in order to sleep, we need to switch off the voices urging, rebuking and warning us about everything we should or shouldn’t have done or said or finished or remembered – including, with particularly ticklish irony, the obligation to get an unbroken eight hours. No mattress is going to proof us against those punishing demands.
For sleep, as the psychoanalyst Darian Leader reminds us in his richly researched and entertaining Why Can’t We Sleep?, has been commodified: it’s big business... Myriad books have charted the impact on sleep of variables such as artificial light and time zones, but the great value of Leader’s book lies in its challenge to questionable notions that have become assumptions... But Leader’s assertion that the memory-culling ambitions of sleep experts such as Walker are reminiscent of eugenicists is debatable... Ultimately, Leader’s dispute with sleep scientists is about the tendency to overstate the ease of overcoming sleeplessness.