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Insomnia

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If only sleep could be hoarded, accumulated, and traded; if only you could store it up for a rainy day or borrow it from friends or buy it on the street in little glassine bags. You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry, says the old song, and only those of us who have trouble sleeping recognize how delicious and how crucial sleep is — “sore labor’s bath, / balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,” says insomniac Macbeth, appreciatively, longingly. Consciousness is something we all need reprieve from, regularly.

Sleep deprivation is torture when it’s inflicted from outside; it’s insomnia when you’re wound up in such a way that you can’t wind down enough at night. I’ve been that person, intermittently, for decades. It seems common among writers in particular, as though whatever’s turned on in our minds won’t turn off.

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is a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine. Her article “The Separating Sickness” appeared in the June issue.

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