Review: Why We Sleep

Posted on February 11th, 2018 @ 21:54
Filed Under Books | Leave a Comment

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and DreamsWhy We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker

My rating:

Blurb:

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our life, health and longevity and yet it is increasingly neglected in twenty-first-century society, with devastating consequences: every major disease in the developed world – Alzheimer’s, cancer, obesity, diabetes – has very strong causal links to deficient sleep.

Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, or what good it served, or why its absence is so damaging to our health. Compared to the other basic drives in life – eating, drinking, and reproducing – the purpose of sleep remained elusive.

Now, in this book, the first of its kind written by a scientific expert, Professor Matthew Walker explores twenty years of cutting-edge research to solve the mystery of why sleep matters. Looking at creatures from across the animal kingdom as well as major human studies, Why We Sleep delves in to everything from what really happens during REM sleep to how caffeine and alcohol affect sleep and why our sleep patterns change across a lifetime, transforming our appreciation of the extraordinary phenomenon that safeguards our existence.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

It took me so long to get to this book (which I also requested late, it didn’t help), and I’m wondering why! Although it *was* definitely scary, it was really interesting—and anyway, the ‘scare’ makes a lot of sense, so I wouldn’t be inclined as to consider it ‘alarmist stuff I can probably safely ignore because all these doctors and scientists write alarming stuff anyway’. I’ve had trouble to sleep for decades—while not a full night own, I’m clearly not a lark either, and this is part of my problems—and let’s be honest, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that on periods when I sleep less than 6-7 hours/night, I feel sluggiosh, fall sick more easily, stay sick longer, and am less focused in general. Considering my natural chronic lack-of-attention-span disorder, you can guess what it looks like.

(And now I’m wondering how much of this attention problem was really related to my Tourette’s, and how much was actually due to not sleeping enough… considering that when tics are flaring while in bed, well, falling asleep becomes an issue, too!)

Mostly what the author mentioned makes sense to me from a layman standpoint. Not enough sleep leads to increased risks of car crashes, due to microsleep attacks: yes, definitely, I almost went through that, and when I had to assess the risk of falling asleep at the wheel on a French motorway vs. stopping in a parking lot along that same motorway at 4 am to catch a couple of hours of shut-eye… Let me tell you, no argument about ‘it’s dangerous to be a female being alone at night in a deserted place’ would have made me keep driving. That was a scary, scary moment: feeling that I was falling asleep, and having those two or three seconds of complete inability to react, before I regained control of my body and managed to pull out. Yes, it was that bad. And I was extremely lucky that time. So I was definitely willing to consider Walker’s research in earnest, and not with my usual rolling-of-eyes at ‘alarmist books’.

Now, I also understand why my ageing parents are chronically tired, to the point of crashing on the sofa for a long nap every afternoon, yet can’t sleep most of the night. And why I’m going the same way, with the difference that for now I can’t afford to nap due to being at work. Naps reset the build-up of ‘sleep pressure’, and this affects in turn the moment when you’d get naturally tired in the evening, pushing it back by a few hours. (Also, now I get why melatonin pills don’t work for me: apparently I’m not old enough yet. XD)

In short, I finally got to understand a lot of things about sleep, which in turn will help me—I’m the kind of person who needs to ‘do’ and ‘understand’ in order to acquire and retain knowledge and act upon it, so this was actually perfect for me. Now I now what happens while we sleep, all the waste it helps our bodies get rid of, why sleep deprivation affects our emotions and moods, and many more things. It’s not a self-help book—while it does have an appendix with a few ‘tips and tricks’ about how to sleep better, don’t expect to see only that for two hundred pages or to find miracle cures—but it’s already doing a lot for me, just thinking about it. I can’t change my work hours, and society is not going to rearrange itself around me to give me more sleep time; but I can do little things like filtering out blue lights from my screens, not drinking so much caffeine (the old saying ‘coffee is OK as long as it’s before 5pm’ isn’t good enough, so slowly does one’s body processes caffeine), and stop begging my GP for sleeping pills.

Bonus point for the book’s accessibility. You don’t need to have medical knowledge or master its jargon to understand the author’s points. There’s even a bit of humour thrown now and then (that part about the women’s fashion magazine that was delighted to hear confirmed that ‘yes, sleep deprivation favours weight loss’… before the interviewed researcher went on to talk about the loss being mostly muscle mass and not fatty tissue, and let’s not forget the skin sores and generally awful look one develops).

Conclusion: If you do have sleeping troubles, read this, it should help with at least a few things. If you don’t, read it anyway, because it’s interesting.

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