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First meeting Richard Gregory


Enjoying getting to sleep
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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I’ve been enjoying unusually good sleep in these days of filming, I think because of the feeling of bringing out all sorts of things and connecting them and putting them on record before I am deprived of my mind by... by some catastrophe. It’s a very satisfying feeling, and has allowed me good sleep, but... but last night it didn’t work, and I had a nightmare and I woke up. I don’t have tricks for falling asleep, like counting sheep; I think counting sheep would keep me awake, but when I read lying in bed at night, there comes a point when I’m either forgetting… losing the thread of the argument or forgetting sentences, or interpolating sentences and scenes of my own. A particular one stays in my mind, although it was 30 years ago when I was working on sign language on my own book, Seeing Voices, and I was reading Gibbons’ autobiography, and at one point he gives a fabulous description of seeing people signing, and seeing sign language in the streets of London around 1770. I thought, gosh, that’s beautiful, must use it as a footnote in the book. But when I looked again it wasn’t there. I had invented it or dreamed it.

There is a brief period when I am dreaming for a moment, or having hallucinations, hypnagogic hallucinations for a moment, or possibly getting, you know, what are sometimes called REM intrusions, dream intrusions, and at that point the doors of sleep, the portal of sleep, is wide open. It only lasts about 15 seconds, at that point I must stop reading, stop everything, and I will fall asleep instantly. If I miss it, if I feel I need to go on to the end of a paragraph, I may not have another opening for... for two hours. It’s a very, very delicate thing. I don’t know whether this is common or not, but anyhow, that’s a little thing.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Seeing Voices, Memoirs of My Life, REM, Edward Gibbon

Duration: 2 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012