Why We Sleep

Why We Sleep

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker is the latest book I’ve read in the last few years on the power of sleep. This fascination started through reading a number of books on happiness (see various of my happiness blogs) and discovering the importance of getting enough sleep if you want to lead a happy life. My interest was then deepened through reading The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington (see my blog) and continued when reading Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang (see my blog). So, I didn’t really need to read Why We Sleep to be further convinced, but I couldn’t resist.

This is a great introduction if you haven’t read anything else about sleep to what science is now telling us about why we sleep, what happens if we don’t get enough sleep and what we can do to get more. There are chapters on how our sleep needs and sleep quality change across the lifespan and Walker points out how crazy it is that teenagers have to get up when their body needs to be sleeping and argues hard for a staggered school day to help teenagers start later and learn better. Chapters on the benefits of sleep to the brain are fascinating and show how vital it is for a range of functions that we get enough, whilst chapters on health show how not getting enough sleep could be a major contributor to a range of diseases. Then there is a lot about dreams, sleep disorders, what gets in the way of sleep, and why sleeping pills are not the answer.

I particularly enjoyed reading the chapter on ‘Caffeine, Jet Lag and Melatonin’, being jet-lagged at the time of reading it and having just taken melatonin on the long flight home from Thailand. It was great to understand why jet lag is so hard and why melatonin can help. I also learned that although I ‘gave up’ caffeine about six months ago, it’s actually present in dark chocolate (damn) and that decaffeinated does not mean non-caffeinated. Less enjoyable than reading about jet lag was reading about the effect of only small amounts of alcohol on sleep and recall – there’s some somewhat terrifying research in here about what just a few drinks does to students’ ability to learn.

Walker has a nice style, instructing the reader near the beginning:

So please, feel free to ebb and flow into and out of consciousness during this entire book. I will take absolutely no offence. On the contrary, I would be delighted.

He also doesn’t stop at the science, making recommendations of what education, organisations, government and society need to do to help us all to get the sleep we need. A good read, as long as you’re not reading it instead of getting an early night.