Sleeplessness in Song: Songs about Insomnia

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Note: Josh Tal is the blogger behind City of Sleep's Artful Sleeping Blog. Here is his first of many blogs on artists who create art based on sleep - or sleeplessness.

Sleep is a common interest amidst popular culture, as people will spend around 1/3rd of their lives sleeping – or trying to. Countless movies, songs and artwork have tried to capture the universal phenomenon of sleeping. Part of its appeal is its mystery; sleeping is so common yet we are completely unconscious while it happens. Then you have the emotional anguish and despair of insomnia. Pair that with the vivid imagery and craziness of dreams, and you have yourself massive inspiration for the artists of the world.

I am no artist or singer or moviemaker, but I can sure appreciate a piece of art that tries to tackle the subject of sleep. Artful Sleeping will provide collections of interesting pieces on sleep for your hypnotic appreciation.

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Songs about Insomnia

People love making songs about insomnia. Maybe it is because insomnia provides so much time to write music, or maybe because there is nothing worse than knowing you need to get to sleep and knowing there is nothing you can do about it except waiting. Maybe it is because sitting and waiting in bed always brings up the annoying things in life that drive you crazy. Regardless, there are some good songs out there that channel insomnia, and here they are:

 

The Beatles – “I’m So Tired

The Beatles basically have a song for every human experience in existence, and insomnia is definitely one of them. “I’m So Tired” is an excellent song in the insomnia catalogue, mainly for its range of tempo and emotion. It begins with that horrible, slow, dirge like aching that usually starts a night of sleeplessness. You are soootireeddddd and just want to go to sleep. But then your frustration builds. “My mind is on the brink” of thinking about all the stupid things in life, especially the love that got away or whatever the story is. Then the tempo builds as the frustration and anger builds – “I’d give you everything I got for a little piece of mind!!!” I am not sure if John Lennon was talking to Yoko or to the insomnia itself, but the song really channels the range of emotions in some experiences of insomnia.

 

Leonard Cohen – “Famous Blue Raincoat

 Leonard Cohen’s song about letter writing at 4 in the morning captures the haunting pondering of insomnia. The song focuses on a letter to an unnamed man that was part of a twisted love triangle between Cohen, the man, and a girl named Jane. Cohen’s evocative voice brings up the evocative image of lying in bed, figuring out what you would say to “my brother, my killer”. Maybe he got up a couple times, lit a candle by his desk, tried to write, but the words wouldn’t come out. Just images, fragments of emotions, as the clock ticked away to 4 am.

 

Green Day – “Brain Stew

Green Day gives us the angsty, punk rockers response to insomnia. Not quite the subtle build up that the Beatles gives us, Green Day’s classic song funnels the existential anger of staying up all night, knowing there is not a single person in this world who can help you get to sleep. Its lyrics evoke the visceral side of insomnia, where your tiredness sucks the physical life out of you. Everyone can relate to a “mind on overdrive” and a “clock laughing in my face”, two horrible facets of being amped up when you should be relaxing and sleeping like a baby.

 

Have a favorite you want to share? Please comment and let us know!

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