On Getting Off to Sleep by J.B. Priestley

In On Getting Off to Sleep by J.B. Priestley we have the theme of insomnia, irritation, restlessness, ignorance, arrogance and sympathy. Taken from his Papers from Lilliput collection the reader realises after reading the essay that Priestley may be exploring the theme of insomnia. Throughout the essay Priestley finds difficulty in sleeping. No matter what he tries to do he cannot sleep. With regard to his battles with doing as Cromwell or Napoleon had done. Priestley is not successful. He appears to be unable to let go of the day or take solace from his activates of the day. This may be important as Priestley may be suggesting that sleep will be easier on a man should he find solace in his activities. Forgetting about anything bad that might have occurred and focusing on the positive. Instead for Priestley he lies awake for the entire evening unable to sleep. However should Priestley attempt to work during the day with ink, pen and paper he finds himself getting off to sleep. Though when the evening comes and when he should be sleeping he is again unable to do so if he is writing. Something which must be very difficult for a man who depends on writing for an income.

Similarly the notion of counting sheep only irritates Priestley. As time passes he imagines the sheep to be blue pigs which only leads to distraction for Priestley. As for attempting to converse with others (Cromwell or Napoleon) in an effort to sleep, Priestley again incurs difficulty as he feels himself to be inadequate to both men. Their achievements do not match his and as such Priestley feels deflated. Something which will not be of benefit to someone who is trying to sleep as one will lose all confidence in oneself if they are to compare themselves to men of Cromwell or Napoleon’s stature. It is easier for Priestley to try and count sheep, which won’t work for him, rather than to compare himself to Cromwell or Napoleon. It is also interesting that Priestley finds it unusual that both Cromwell and Napoleon can sleep with such ease. It is as though they do not have sympathy or empathy for those they have challenged and fought with. If anything both men’s minds are at ease regardless of the havoc they may have caused on humanity.

Drinking is also not a successful therapy to help Priestley sleep nor is reading while in bed. It is as though once tired Priestley finds it impossible to sleep at night. Yet can do so during the day if writing. Priestley’s friend suggests to imagine himself repeating a trivial act over and over but this does not work for Priestley and if anything only leads to further irritation. The event that Priestley attempted to use to help him sleep is also a bad example of how to train the mind in trying to sleep. Priestley picks a picture on the wall and spends the night imagining himself continuously moving it from side to side to straighten it. Again this would only lead to irritation for the most well-balanced of people. The only cure for Priestley is to imagine himself having a conversation with someone he considers to be a bore.  Just listening to Mr. H talking is enough to enable Priestley to sleep. Though Priestley’s suggestion that similar action for others would also be enough to ensure sleep may not be correct. Each individual will find their own method when it comes to trying to sleep.

Some methods will work and some will not. Just because Priestley cannot count sheep or imagine sharing conversations with Cromwell or Napoleon others might think differently. For Priestley he appears to revel in the ignorance of Mr. H which may leave some critics to suggest that Priestley considers himself above Mr. H. Which in reality may not be the case. Priestley at the beginning of the essay displays a level of arrogance when it comes to his own abilities that is not matched by others. Only Cromwell and Napoleon may have been so arrogant. Which might suggest that should Priestley try and have a conversation with Cromwell or Napoleon, he might in fact succeed. Despite his own statement that he would feel inadequate to try and do so. If anything Priestley is somewhat aloof throughout the essay. Judging himself to be better than others particularly Mr. H. What is to be thought of Priestley’s opinion of Mr. H? Other than considering him to be a bore Mr H. provides no stimulation for Priestley. Which makes him the ideal sleeping aid for Priestley.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "On Getting Off to Sleep by J.B. Priestley." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 May. 2019. Web.


  • I love your blog! Thank you for doing this. ♥️

    Ps. This essay is one of the best descriptions of insomnia I’ve ever read!

  • Wow this is so helpful!! Thank you so much for such a beautiful presentation.

  • good buddy, nice try but there’s a little bit problem when i put it for translation on Google translation and it seems like there are some punctuation mistakes in it.

    But its okay, nice analytically explanation.

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