The Sleep Standard: Analysing Modern Anxieties of Insomnia


  • Alice Mary Vernon



We are being increasingly exposed to ideas of perfect sleep in fiction and journalism. This paper explores the notion of a modern self-consciousness surrounding sleep and sleeplessness, and the ways in which this obsession creates a kind of performance anxiety when it comes to achieving sleep of a recommended quality. By analysing journal articles and fictional texts in which the importance of a sleep standard is emphasised, this paper discusses the various situations in which we can fail to sleep, or how sleep can fail us. It will first examine the pressures of performing for ideal rest by investing in and manipulating sleep. This paper will then observe the act of detaching ourselves from the force of sleep, mythologizing and externalising the experience. Finally, by analysing the presentation of insomnia in Jonathan Coe’s The House of Sleep (1997), this paper will suggest that erratic sleeping habits can sometimes be a necessary failure, and that the modern preoccupation with sleep is placing too much focus on an otherwise natural and unpredictable process.