Book RBook Review — Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

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In August 2019, I finished Matthew Walker’s “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams”. Matthew is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, having previously taught psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

I picked up this book after a random person on Social Media remarked that this was the best book she read in 2018. It was an especially curious comment because on her list are a few books I really loved. Having finished the book, I can see why the book got to her the way it did.

Matthew took the reader on an easy-to-understand journey on this phenomenon called Sleep. What Sleep is, why we should sleep, how and why we dream, and the unfortunate proliferation of sleeping pills.

There is a long section about how truly universal but unpredictable sleep is in the animal kingdom. Every animal species studied to date sleeps. While Elephants sleep for 4 hours, the Lion sleeps for 8 hours. No one understands this wide disparity. The brown bat however has the record, sleeping for a whopping 19 hours. A mammal like the Dolphin even sleeps with half of its brain, while the other is awake for evolutionary reasons.

For most of us, sleeping less is a heroic act that we aspire to. Some of our heroes from Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan to William Halsted lauded short sleep durations of four to five hours. As you will see in this book, those who underrate the benefits of sound sleep have suffered devastating consequences.

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An 8-hour daily sleep is the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body health each day. Sleep disruption in our world contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality.

Do you know that vehicular accidents caused by drowsy driving — driving when sleep deprived — exceed those caused by alcohol and drugs combined? In fact, one person dies in a traffic accident every hour in the United States due to inadequate sleep.

Many of us think that the reason we sleep is because of the need to rest from our labour of the day, but what if the reason you find yourself functioning well while awake in the first place is because you have slept? You will find strong arguments about this from tens of thousands of medical research conducted all over the world.

One of the things that will get you thinking about sleep is that once lost, you can never recover it. That is, if you sleep 5 hours on weekdays and hope to make up for it on weekends, you are mistaken. Put in another way, you can never “sleep back” that which we have previously lost. We cannot accumulate a debt without penalty, nor can we repay that sleep debt at a later time.

Forward thinking organizations like Google, NFL, NASA and Aetna, the giant insurance company, are already taking proactive steps to ensure that their workers/players know about the importance of sleep. Some of them have even started to offer bonuses to them for getting more sleep, based on verified sleep-tracker data. And why not? insufficient sleep cost a net capital loss of $54 million annually in lost productivity. That’s not trivial.

But the global educational system seems unfazed by the facts. That more and more children are learning less, becoming less creative, killed more via road accidents, becoming obese, developing ADHD, prone to depression, etc. seem not enough to warrant the thwarting of early school time for our kids. This is a travesty. Even more, most of us receive zero education about the benefits of sleep all through our 16 to 24-year academic education. In other words, sleep holds no place in the education of our children. Generation after generation, our young minds continue to remain unaware of the immediate dangers and protracted health impacts of insufficient sleep. Evidence prove this is clearly wrong.

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Those who think they can cheat sleep through sleeping pills are in for a rude shock. There is no sleeping pill available today that will help with the natural sleep your body is made for. There is no single research pointing to the objective benefit of sleeping pills in the body.

But don’t take that to mean that there is no hope for those having sleep problems. Matthew offers tips for sleep troubles, as well as for those who would want a healthier sleep. I will share one: Stick to a sleep schedule — Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Set an alarm for bedtime. Often, we set an alarm for when it’s time to wake up but fail to do so for when it’s time to go to sleep.

After finishing this book, you will never see a person gloat about sleeping less in other to achieve more in life without feeling pity for the person from the depth of your heart. And that’s because you know that what the person wants is exactly what a sound sleep, he desperately avoids, provides.

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