Literary and cinematic references to sleep?
March 17, 2012 1:28 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite films, stories, poems, or passages about sleep?

I'm looking for descriptions of sleep, or not sleeping, in literature, film and other media. Do you know of a poem about insomnia? Or perhaps a favorite passage about sleepiness in a novel or story? Is there a compelling scene in a film of, say, napping? References to sleep in all its forms are welcome!
posted by Ylajali to Society & Culture (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This is non-fiction but I highly recommended The Lost Art of Sleep by Michael McGirr. Interview.
posted by Coaticass at 1:52 PM on March 17, 2012

William Blake's "To the Evening Star"
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:52 PM on March 17, 2012

Kiri Te Kanawa's interpretation of Richard Strauss's Beim Schlafengehen ("Time to Sleep," "Going to Sleep") came to mind. Lyrics by Hermann Hesse, translated into English at Wikipedia. I first heard it featured in "The Year of Living Dangerously"; my feeling is that everyone should hear it at least once.
posted by Currer Belfry at 1:56 PM on March 17, 2012

Christian Bale plays an insomniac in The Machinist.

Chapter 3 of Moby Dick deals with sleep in a very lovely way.

Insomnia songs:
I'm so tired (Beatles)
No sleep (Sam Roberts) (ignore the video)
Who needs sleep (Barenaked Ladies)
posted by costanza at 2:10 PM on March 17, 2012

In The Night Kitchen by Sendak is lovely.
posted by anadem at 2:16 PM on March 17, 2012

Innocent When You Dream, by Tom Waits.
Lady of Dreams, by Vast.
Sweet Dreams Are Made of This, by The Eurythmics, also Marilyn Manson, also Emily Browning.
Dream Dream, by Swans.
Flower Dream Song, by Tony Wakeford and Steven Stapleton is evocative, if you can hunt it down.
A Dreamy Day of Dreaming You, by Of Montreal.
Define a Transparent Dream, by The Olivia Tremor Control.
I Had A Dream, Joe, by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.
Sleep, by Conjure One.
Sleep, by Mark Eitzel.
Sleeping In, by The Postal Service.
Sleep, by Stabbing Westward. (warning: delicious 90s cheese)
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:23 PM on March 17, 2012

In The Third Policeman the narrator describes the good feeling of rest coming to his body and says as he lies there in a comfortable bed his kneecaps open up like rosebuds. (It's a memorable passage that it turns out I can't really remember.)
posted by Francolin at 2:30 PM on March 17, 2012

John Lennon loved sleeping. He wrote not just "I'm So Tired," but also Watching the Wheels and I'm Only Sleeping.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:32 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've always loved this poem by Marvin the paranoid android:

Now the world has gone to bed, Darkness won't engulf my head, I can see by infrared, How I hate the night.

Now I lay me down to sleep, Try to count electric sheep, Sweet dream wishes you can keep, How I hate the night.
posted by soft and hardcore taters at 2:33 PM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's not exactly what you're looking for, but I love Eric Whitacre's Sleep. The lyrics describe someone falling asleep and the music is lovely.
posted by anaximander at 3:10 PM on March 17, 2012

John Milton's poems Allegro and Il Penseroso were written to contrast the moods of the happy day-lover and the melancholy insomniac who prefers the night.
posted by rongorongo at 3:12 PM on March 17, 2012

I love Banana Yoshimoto's book, Asleep. It has three novellas about sleep in it.

Also amusing, an episode of the Unusuals, One man band (#3), where Detective Shraeger gets kept up later and later, and just kind of watching her lose it some 36 hours into awake.
posted by Margalo Epps at 3:13 PM on March 17, 2012

Auden's Lullaby ('Lay your sleeping head, my love...') springs to mind.
posted by Abiezer at 3:26 PM on March 17, 2012

Louis CK's brief routine on his "deep African sleep" is inspired (and NSFW).
posted by Rhaomi at 4:25 PM on March 17, 2012

The science of sleep. By Michel Gondry. Great weird movie about sleep and dreaming.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 4:32 PM on March 17, 2012

"The Greatest Poem in the World"

Once, in Crete,
I was asleep near the sea.
The room was cold
and I woke with the greatest poem
ever about to be written in my head.
I heard waters running under stone.
Searched for a light, searched
for a fire, nothing.
Shivering, I wrote the poem
on the sheet, in the dark.
It was a great poem,
and first thing in the morning,
to celebrate,
I ran out and took a swim.
It was marvelous to have written
the greatest poem in the world.
It summed up everything.
On the way back from the sea's
great reward and kiss of me
I saw the women
doing laundry in a huge boiling
pot, three women. They had already
washed away the greatest poem in the world
with their greatest pot in the world.
And I hadn't memorized it,
the sea had taken it.
And I stood weeping in the smoke,
wind hitting the caverns in my head.

-- David Ray
posted by hermitosis at 5:03 PM on March 17, 2012

This is more about the long sleep that awaits all of us, but I always love this Emily Dickonson poem:

Ample make this Bed --
Make this Bed with Awe --
In it wait till Judgment break
Excellent and Fair.

Be its Mattress straight --
Be its Pillow round --
Let no Sunrise' yellow noise
Interrupt this Ground --

And here is your cinematic reference to it.
posted by bearwife at 5:11 PM on March 17, 2012

Dickinson. Sorry.
posted by bearwife at 5:11 PM on March 17, 2012

Good Night Moon is a classic
posted by Flood at 5:26 PM on March 17, 2012

"Sweet Dreams" - Beyonce
"I Don't Sleep, I Dream" - REM
"Paranoimia" - Art of Noise
"Behind The Wall of Sleep" - Smithereens
posted by SisterHavana at 5:44 PM on March 17, 2012

I love Asleep and Dreaming by the Magnetic Fields. Warning: accordion.
posted by troublesome at 5:56 PM on March 17, 2012

Einstuerzende Neubauten's "Stella Maris."
posted by Sys Rq at 6:01 PM on March 17, 2012

And always, if he had a little money, a man could get drunk. The hard edges gone, and the warmth. Then there was no loneliness, for a man could people his brain with friends, and he could find his enemies and destroy them. Sitting in a ditch, the earth grew soft under him. Failure dulled and the future was no threat. And hunger did not
skulk about, but the world was soft and easy, and a man could reach the place he started for. The stars came down wonderfully close and the sky was soft. Death was a friend, and sleep was death's brother.

― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
posted by St. Sorryass at 6:43 PM on March 17, 2012

Also Fight Club, either the book or movie, has some great bits about insomnia.
posted by St. Sorryass at 6:46 PM on March 17, 2012

Drowse by Queen
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:01 PM on March 17, 2012

It's not really sleep . . . it's brain damage . . . but what about The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ?
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 7:31 PM on March 17, 2012

The Sciences Sing a Lullabye, by Albert Goldbarth

Physics says: go to sleep. Of course
you're tired. Every atom in you
has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes
nonstop from mitosis to now.
Quit tapping your feet. They'll dance
inside themselves without you. Go to sleep.

Geology says: it will be all right. Slow inch
by inch America is giving itself
to the ocean. Go to sleep. Let darkness
lap at your sides. Give darkness an inch.
You aren't alone. All of the continents used to be
one body. You aren't alone. Go to sleep.

Astronomy says: the sun will rise tomorrow,
Zoology says: on rainbow-fish and lithe gazelle,
Psychology says: but first it has to be night, so
Biology says: the body-clocks are stopped all over town
History says: here are the blankets, layer on layer, down and down.
posted by yasaman at 7:43 PM on March 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Variation on the Word Sleep by Margaret Atwood
posted by sigmagalator at 7:59 PM on March 17, 2012

The Kinks - I Just Can't Go to Sleep
Lee Hazlewood - Sleep in the Grass
The Magnetic Fields - Asleep and Dreaming
The 6ths - Give me Back My Dreams
Sonic Youth - I Dreamed I Dream

Shakespeare: Sonnet 27
A Midsummer Night's Dream

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities: "Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else."
posted by hydrophonic at 10:15 PM on March 17, 2012

Radiolab did a show called Sleep.
posted by juliplease at 4:02 PM on March 18, 2012

The short story "Oblivion" by David Foster Wallace is all about sleep.
posted by mattbucher at 7:36 AM on March 19, 2012

« Older Chicago Wedding Catering   |   The car that idled way too slow Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.