Rebecca's Reviews > Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
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bookshelves: science-tech, current-events, read-via-netgalley, newbury-library, skimmed, reviewed-for-blog

We often hear that sleep, diet and exercise are the three pillars of health, but Walker, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, goes further: he believes sleep is the platform on which diet and exercise rest. Getting 7–9 hours of sleep a night is not some luxury to aim for but an absolute essential for the brain to process new information and prepare for receiving more the next day. Dreaming is like overnight therapy, and fuels creativity. Sleep deprivation has been associated with dementia and cancer: it’s no accident that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, who prided themselves on getting by on just five hours of sleep a night, both developed Alzheimer’s. Just a few nights of insufficient sleep can weaken the immune system and increase the risks of developing a serious illness. It’s no wonder Walker calls sleep loss an epidemic.

Here are some other facts I gleaned:
During primate evolution, the transition to sleeping on the ground instead of in trees meant we could sleep more deeply – not having to worry about falling out – and the resulting increase in REM sleep and dreams contributed to the development of complex culture and creativity.

Fetuses are asleep most of the time; they kick in their sleep. Alcohol use during pregnancy or breastfeeding can lead to a decline in the offspring’s sleep quality or quantity.

People with autism get 30–50% less REM sleep than neurotypical people.

The postprandial slump in energy many of us experience is evolutionarily inbuilt, and suggests that a short nap (30–40 minutes) would be natural and beneficial. For instance, some African tribespeople still regularly nap at the hottest point of the day.

Walker’s sleep tips are mostly common-sense stuff you will have heard before. His #1 piece of advice is to have a sleep schedule, always going to sleep and waking up at the same time. (“Catching up” on weekends doesn’t work, though napping before 3 p.m. can.) Set an alarm for bedtime so you’ll stick to it, he suggests.

It’s a fairly long and dense book, with smallish type and scientific figures, so I knew I was unlikely to read the whole thing, but enjoyed mining it for fascinating information about evolution, neuroscience and child development.

Originally published, along with some personal reflections, on my blog, Bookish Beck.
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Reading Progress

December 14, 2017 – Shelved
December 14, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
January 4, 2018 – Shelved as: science-tech
January 28, 2018 – Shelved as: current-events
January 28, 2018 – Shelved as: read-via-netgalley
January 30, 2018 – Shelved as: newbury-library
January 31, 2018 – Shelved as: skimmed
March 5, 2018 – Shelved as: reviewed-for-blog

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Chris (new)

Chris Steeden Oh man, I only get about 6.5 hours sleep per night max. Great review Rebecca.


Rebecca Chris wrote: "Oh man, I only get about 6.5 hours sleep per night max. Great review Rebecca."

Thank you! Set your "bedtime" alarm for half an hour earlier? :)


message 3: by Janet M (new) - added it

Janet M Hi Rebecca, found this on your blog. A "bedtime alarm" sounds like a great idea, gonna try it!


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