On Falling Asleep

  • Jan Linschoten
Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 103)


These words of a desperate poet unable to get to sleep plunge us immediately into the midst of the problematic which will interest us here: the question of falling asleep. All of us know of the conflicts and exasperations which surround not being able to fall asleep. We all remember those nights when we tried everything but without success; on the contrary, the more we exerted ourselves the more awake we became. The insomniac tosses and turns in his bed, continually changes position, sighs, squeezes his eyes shut, stops the clock that is two rooms away, puts cotton in his ears, is warm and cold in turns, listens to his heartbeat, tries all the well-known tricks without success — and then in an unguarded moment falls asleep. One day he picks up a textbook on psychology only to discover to his amazement that falling asleep is not dealt with in it. Why is this so? Why is it that so little attention is paid to such an important subject as falling-asleep which either happens each night or fails to happen? According to Kleitman who devoted 600 pages to the subject of “Sleep and Wakefulness” a special description of the psychic state of one who suffers from insomnia is superfluous as all of us sooner or later go through this torment.2 If we want to know why we are tormented and how we can fight insomnia, it seems a conversation with falling asleep is the only thing left for us. We wish to question this phenomenon and try to understand it in its essential structure.


Intentional Relation Essential Structure Theoretical Reflection Disturbing Noise Pure Experience 
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    Cf. Briand, “Maladie et sommeil chez Proust,” Les Temps Modernes, 51(1950), p. 1179. This article was reprinted in Le secret de Marcel Proust (Paris: Gallimard, 1950), pp. 18–52. Note what follows in the passage quoted: “His world, the only one in which he feels at home, in which he finds himself again and recognizes himself, that is the pure interiority, that is the not-formulated, immediate, intuitive and, as it were, unconscious apprehension of the ego by the ego. It is the sudden shock of life in its own source caused by this being which is born in it taken at the moment when this is being born in it, independently of every fact of consciousness which could not do anything but, by exteriorizing it, dissolve the one as well as the other, being and life.”Google Scholar
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    Cf. Proust, op. cit., p. 51 the description of the insomnia cult of Aunt Leonie who has lost her husband and therefore no longer “can” nor is allowed to sleep because of sorrow. “Unfortunately, having formed the habit of thinking aloud, she did not always take care to see that there was no one in the adjoining room, and I would often hear her saying to herself: ‘I must not forget that I never slept a wink’ — for ‘never sleeping a wink’ was her great claim to distinction, and one admitted and respected in our household vocabulary; in the morning Françoise would not ‘call’ her, but would simply ‘come to’ her: during the day when my Aunt wished to take a nap, we used to say just that she wished to ‘be quiet’ or to ‘rest’; and when in conversation she so far forgot herself as to say ‘what made me wake up’, or ‘I dreamed that’, she would flush and at once correct herself.” (English: pp. 70–71.)Google Scholar
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    After completing this essay we found in the Husserl-Archives at Louvain the fragment Das bewusstlose Ich — Schlaf — Ohnmacht which we here publish in its entirety because of its agreement with our own analyses. The author thanks Professor Dr. H.L. Van Breda O.F.M. for his kind permission for publication. The fragment consists in an appendix of two typed pages (pp. 48–49) which refer to pp. 17ff. of the (transcribed and typed) ms. A. VI 14 which is entitled: Die phänomenologische Problematik von Geburt, Tod, Unbewusstsein zurückgeleitet zur allgemeinen Theorie der Inten-tionalität. — Weltbewusstsein und thematisches Bewusstsein. The ms. dates from the years 1930–1932. On pp. 10ff. of the main text Husserl discusses the problems of sleep and falling asleep in a broader context. That is why these pages, however interesting they may be, are not so suited for separate publication as the presently reproduced appendix which forms a complete whole.Google Scholar

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