Book Review: Why We Sleep

26 June 2020

Matthew Walker
Why We Sleep
Penguin (2018)

Do you get the recommended eight hours of sleep each night? Ever wondered why as you get older you need less sleep and why teenagers can’t get up in the morning? Did you know that practicing a skill just before sleeping is one of the best ways to improve performance? Sleep science is developing rapidly and pointing to the under-appreciated need for and benefits of sleep.

Matthew Walker is a professor of Neuroscience and Sleep at the University of California. In this book he seeks to answer the question – why we sleep? He brings lots of evidence from studies around the world looking at the impact of not sleeping enough and the very positive aspects of good sleep on our bodies and abilities.

The lack of sleep is dangerous. The cognitive impairment is on par with drinking and driving. If you drive after less than five hours of sleep your risk of crashing increases threefold. The lack of sleep impacts on health; the shorter you sleep, the shorter you live. Sleeping before learning refreshes our ability to make new memories. Whilst sleeping the brain does some amazing work. It moves recent memories to longer-term storage and removes what we don’t need. That creates space in the short-term memory ready to learn again. Equally, learning before sleeping is helpful. Don’t stay up all night revising before an exam! A sleep refreshed brain performs much better.

The book is in four parts. Part 1 answers the questions about sleep rhythms changing across our life span, and how we should sleep. Part 2 examines the good, bad and unhealthy, whilst affirming the positive benefits of getting sufficient sleep. Part 3 delves into dreams and how they can inspire new insights and Part 4 explains various sleep disorders and finishes with twelve tips on how to achieve healthy sleep.

This book is packed with insights based on science. It is written in an engaging way, without footnotes, and with lots of passion from the author for getting enough sleep. Don’t be surprised if you nod off reading the book – I did – not because it is uninteresting but reading about sleep can induce sleep!

— Canon Mike D Williams

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