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Insomnia: What keeps you up at night?

Insomnia: What keeps you up at night?

Insomnia: What keeps you up at night?

When I mentioned A Journal of Insomnia in a hat-tip to sleep-deprived moms in my Mother’s Day post, I knew I had to return for a more in-depth exploration.

Are you one of the many people who’ve experienced the the irritable moods, stinging eyes, sore body, the exhausted and even surreal state where dreams and wakefulness begin to bleed into each other, the slow-motion stumbling to keep up with the well-rested world around you – and you still can’t sleep?

Hugues Sweeney, producer of this interactive web documentary that created buzz at Tribeca Film Festival, pondered insomnia as he stayed up nights with his newborn daughter.

And so was inspired the NFB’s collection of thousands of personal experiences on sleeplessness: videos, drawings, and written messages shared to create the first interactive documentary that requires participants to make an appointment with one of four insomniacs in the middle of the night to experience the full project.

I made my appointment with some trepidation, as an occasional insomnia sufferer who doesn’t like to mess around with the chance at a good night’s sleep.

The site has hypnotic, ambient sound, and I was sure I could hear a clock ticking faintly in the background. Tweets with the hashtag #insomnia appeared and disappeared ephemerally, some in languages I didn’t recognize.  I chose one of the four insomniacs to make my appointment (Francis, the firefighter from Montreal.)

Shortly afterward, I received an email thanking me for “agreeing to surrender part of your night in order to experience collective insomnia,” with a link to access to the full experience at the appointed time.   At that time (11:30PM – way past my bedtime), my phone rang: I was invited in.

This time, I was able to fully access the stories of the participants – the featured insomniacs, Fatiha, Sarah, Tina and Francis – and the many others who shared their impressions of their sleepless nights, by writing, drawing or recording on-camera.

And I was invited to share mine.  So if you visit A Journal of Insomnia and see this message among many: “At night, I finally have time to check in with myself.  If I don’t get that time in the day, I stay up for it,” – that was yours truly.

Although we can make light of insomnia while the sun shines, sleep-deprivation causes serious physical, cognitive and emotional problems. A Journal of Insomnia includes a resource page with hotlines for people suffering with anxiety, burnout and suicidal thoughts.

There is something amazing about the dovetailing of art and technology used to create a collective documentary experience about this frustrating problem usually experienced in solitude.

It’s quite late now, as I write this. You should go check out A Journal of Insomnia now. Me?  I’m going to (try to) call it a night.


Alexandra Yanofsky is a film and television producer and researcher. She produced the NFB Films The Colour of Beauty, Jaded and Taxi Libre, for Work for All, an initiative about racism at work. Alexandra is a member of the Visual Research Society of Canada.

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