Quinn Eastman—The Woman Who Couldn't Wake Up: Hypersomnia and the Science of Sleepiness

Cover of the book The Woman Who Couldn

Woman Who Couldn't Wake Up


Quinn Eastman
Columbia University Press, August 1, 2023, $32
ISBN-10: 0231194641, ISBN-13: 978-0231194648

Eastman reports:

This book grew out of my experience watching the coalescence of a community. Until about a decade ago, people diagnosed with the sleep disorder idiopathic hypersomnia didn’t have support groups or organizations that could advocate for them. Idiopathic hypersomnia was the “shadow sibling” of narcolepsy, a better known disorder that causes severe and persistent drowsiness.

As a university PIO, I had been covering research that helped one woman—and later a small group—manage extreme sleepiness when conventional medications hadn’t done the job. That research was intriguing, and the investigators behind it had swagger, but they ran into controversy. Rivals had tried and failed to replicate their results. As I learned more about idiopathic hypersomnia’s history, it struck me that this tangled mess might contain a book.

Portrait photo of Quinn Eastman by Maia Eastman

Quinn Eastman
Photo by Maia Eastman

In 2017, I began assembling a proposal. The point when I had to decide whether to travel overseas for a sleep research meeting was when I really committed to the project. An editor at an Atlanta writers’ conference connected me with an agent. After some misfires, Columbia University Press was willing to take me on, and their support helped me obtain a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Sloan grant enabled me to hire an illustrator and fact-checkers and to take a few months leave from my job. My leave coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited travel and interviews.

When I started back in 2017, I did not know what the end of the story would be. In my perhaps overly ambitious proposal, I conceived of the book as a detective story. I thought I’d explore the mysteries of sleep and sprinkle in some history. But the detective case turned cold, and I hadn’t appreciated how extensive the mysteries were. Given the lack of resolution for the scientific narrative, I reshaped and cut peripheral material to emphasize the positive outcome: community formation. The story shifted from one woman’s struggle, which was resolved, to larger issues.

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Banner image adapted from original photo by Quinn Eastman.

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