After 24 hours without sleeping, impairment is equal to a blood alcohol level of 0.10. In two or three days, hallucinations start. Soon a state of Without sleep, you will die. This is the impact of the insomnia epidemic.

“..the governor’s budget cuts in that Sunshine State have meant that Floridian sleep scientists remain stalled at the “dang/”go figure” stage of their research.”

page 7

Fighting the insomnia epidemic that killed her sister, Trish has spent years working for the non-profit Slumber Corps, spending her time with the sleep donation van. The pure sleep of babies is the best, and Trish is an expert at cultivating the parents of potential donors. Donating just a few hours of sleep could save a life, but even minor chronic sleep deprivation can be detrimental.

Why is this on our bookshelf?

Karen Russell has created an eerie near-future dystopia where insomnia has become an epidemic and the only treatment is sleep transfusions.

Rating (4 stars)

I read this when highly sleep-deprived, which means the crisis presented in the book seemed especially terrifying to me. It became even more terrifying once I found out that there is real disease that resembles the one in the book— a extremely rare genetic disease called Fatal Familial Insomnia that causes increasing insominia until the patient can no longer sleep. It leads to death.

Unlike FFI, there is a temporary treatment for patients in the book; sleep transfusions. Sleep donation can be equated to blood donation where a donor gives up a little bit of their sleep to try to save lives. But even minor chronic sleep deprivation of donors can cause problems. When Trish finds Baby A, the first universal sleep donor, her path at first is clear. But as more sleep donations are needed and the epidemic rages on, Trish begins to question the ethics of what she is doing.

I loved the eerie atmosphere of the book which fit the world of sleep-deprived people perfectly. The haunting description of the “Night Worlds” where insomniacs flock and black markets offer useless cures contrasts from the sterile world of sleep donations.

Insomnia as an epdemic is an amazing premise and Russell takes full advantage of it. She nails the novella format with a story that feels neither too long nor too short.

The only hiccup to pure enjoyment of the novella for me was the scientific reasoning. I raised my eyebrow at the ideas behind sleep donation, transmissible nightmares, and the other aspects of sleep transfusions. In the book, sleep donation can be equated to blood donation. However, scientific plausibility was not essential to the story that was told and by not dwelling on it, Russell was able to delve into the consequences of a sleep epidemic.