Trevor's Reviews > Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
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it was amazing
bookshelves: medicine, science

So, this book is both a must read and deeply, deeply disturbing. I’ve been having trouble sleeping for the last few years and now I’m going to have to do something about it, simple as that, because the consequences of not sleeping properly are appalling.

For instance, it provides you, free of charge, with an increased risk of diabetes, dementia (in all its fun and various guises), weight gain, heart disease and even accidental death. And the situation is getting worse. We are losing sleep at a rate of knots as we squeeze the nights from both ends. Add to that the fact that our world is now awash with night-time blue light – the frequency of light we have used to tell us it is day-time ever since before we were even fish – and this particular self-created train wreck just keeps a-roll’n along.

There were times in this where he would say things and I would think, ‘oh yeah, see that, you’ve gone too far this time’ – for instance, his saying that driving with a sleep deficit is worse than driving while drunk, having done both, I figured I knew better. But then he justifies this by saying that when you are drunk your reaction times are reduced, but you generally still react – but when you are sleep deprived you drop (without warning) into micro sleeps and while in them you do not react at all. You know, you are asleep.

And then he reminds us of the stereotypical truck driver (by the way, in most states in the US, there are more truck drivers than any other occupation). Truck drivers are often over-weight, which is directly correlated with sleep apnoea, that is, a condition likely to increase the number of times you fall into micro-sleeps. Did I mention I found this book terrifying?

The other bit of this that really struck me was the correlation between anxiety and a lack of sleep. It is almost as if we are unable to trust people as we get less and less sleep. And this also translates into an inability to lay down new memories – that is, learn things. In fact, something students often do is stay up all night studying for an exam – on the basis of ‘never do today what you can do five minutes before it is almost too late’. But such a lack of sleep is likely to leave them feeling under-confident, anxious and also seriously impaired in their ability to actually learn and remember anything they have spent the night staring blankly at.

This is part of the reason why he says the shift in the US towards earlier school starting times is such a bad idea. He presents an evolutionary biology just-so story that goes: adolescents need a safe-ish way to move out of the parental nest. They do this by their body clock shifting so they stay awake later (when their parents are asleep), so they can interact with other young people in a relatively safe environment, and this means they therefore wake later than their parents too. But then we force them out of bed at 6 or earlier to cross town to go to a school that starts at 7am, and getting up at that time feels to them like getting out of bed at 4am, bad things are likely to happen. How can they possibly learn in that state? Whether or not the evolutionary story is right, it does seem teens do need to stay up later and to sleep in longer, and we ought to respect that. It also seems there is such a thing as night-owls, and our forcing them to work at the crack of dawn is just as cruel and just as stupid as our forcing teenagers to do the same thing.

You need to get hold of this book and to read it – and it is written by someone who does research in the field, so, not just some random guy who likes nice good sleep-in in the morning and figures you should like it too. I can’t tell you how many times I thought while reading this, ‘oh, for god’s sake’. This was not the mirror I felt I needed to look into at the moment, but then, I guess that means it is exactly the mirror I needed to look into.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
August, 2018 – Finished Reading
August 15, 2018 – Shelved
August 15, 2018 – Shelved as: medicine
August 15, 2018 – Shelved as: science

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)

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Toni Wow, excellent review. I must have breezed through this book too quickly. Now that I’m getting older I’m beginning to have sleep difficulties as well. Meditation is just not working yet. As for teenagers, he’s absolutely correct. You explained that perfectly. Thanks.


message 2: by Darlene (last edited Aug 16, 2018 05:59AM) (new)

Darlene Fascinating review, Trevor! I found the part of your review about the early start time of schools particularly interesting. It has seemed to me for a long while that schools have become effective day care centers for many parents who need to get to their jobs. Because of the lack of affordable child care, schools seem to fill in as child care centers. Plus, for many American children, school is sometimes the only place where they can obtain meals during the day... free or reduced- cost breakfast and lunch. It becomes apparent that schools have become day care centers when parents are faced with 'snow days' or late starting times because of inclement weather. This often leaves parents scrambling to figure out what to do with their children. I agree with the author of the book you reviewed in that sleep deprivation is harmful but since schools serve so many purposes for students, it's hard to see anything changing.

Anyway, I enjoyed your review!!:)


message 3: by Glenn (new)

Glenn Russell Excellent, Trevor.

One observation: I always thought it idiotic that high school students in the US start school so early (so there's time in the afternoon for the really important stuff -sports). Every time I see students waiting for the buss in the morning, all the guys are yawning.


Trevor Thanks Toni, Darlene and Glenn

I should have mentioned how bad alcohol is for sleep too, something else I didn't know and had always assumed the opposite.

But it is really true, we seem to have structured life and work so as to be about as unhealthy for us as we can make it.


Helen (Helena/Nell) Ok. Gonna have to read it.... :-)


Helen (Helena/Nell) Half way through. Good grief. So much I didn't even KNOW!


Trevor I know, I had exactly the same reaction. It’s all a bit terrifying.


~☆~Autumn♥♥ It is terrifying but has helped me. I started taking less melatonin earlier. I have always had insomnia due to night time asthma so sometimes I just have to sit up and sleep in the daytime.


message 9: by JZ (new)

JZ While I was listening to Terence McKenna on YouTube, and fell asleep, I woke up to, of all people, the author of this book, talking about all these topics. Since it was dark, I just listened, and didn't watch. I have no idea what the urls are, but you can doo the gooogle. He's really interesting, and his q&a sessions are quick and fascinating.


message 10: by JZ (new)

JZ “People say, 'I'm going to sleep now,' as if it were nothing. But it's really a bizarre activity. 'For the next several hours, while the sun is gone, I'm going to become unconscious, temporarily losing command over everything I know and understand. When the sun returns, I will resume my life.'

If you didn't know what sleep was, and you had only seen it in a science fiction movie, you would think it was weird and tell all your friends about the movie you'd seen.

They had these people, you know? And they would walk around all day and be OK? And then, once a day, usually after dark, they would lie down on these special platforms and become unconscious. They would stop functioning almost completely, except deep in their minds they would have adventures and experiences that were completely impossible in real life. As they lay there, completely vulnerable to their enemies, their only movements were to occasionally shift from one position to another; or, if one of the 'mind adventures' got too real, they would sit up and scream and be glad they weren't unconscious anymore. Then they would drink a lot of coffee.'

So, next time you see someone sleeping, make believe you're in a science fiction movie. And whisper, 'The creature is regenerating itself.”
― George Carlin, Brain Droppings


message 11: by Monica (new) - added it

Monica Good review. Bill Gates listed this as one of his top 5 2019 books. You were earlier than him.


Trevor Hmm. One of my least favourite people. In a rational world what he has done to the public education system in the US would be seen as crimes against humanity and he would be put out of harm’s way.


message 13: by Monica (new) - added it

Monica Trevor wrote: "Hmm. One of my least favourite people. In a rational world what he has done to the public education system in the US would be seen as crimes against humanity and he would be put out of harm’s way."

Because of your comment, I went to google Bill Gates and public education, and understand that his foundation underwrote a pilot to evaluate teachers based on student's test scores. Was this what you were referring too? If so, I think this way of evaluating teachers is not not useful and in fact, counters the holistic needs students needs and development. I am from a country (I am not from USA) where this is done in some way, and some teachers stress and obsess over their students' test scores and passing rates because their performance rating depends on it. This is not right.

I recall a doctor once complained publicly in my country that she had been given KPIs to see a certain number of patients in a day, and that this contravenes good care as she needed to spend more time with some patients.

So thank you for your comment.


Trevor And this and so much more, I'm afraid. An excellent book to read on what Gates is doing to US education is Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools. An excellent review of this is by my friend Cliff https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

I meant to review that book after reading it a year or so ago when I was doing research into Teach for America, but must have gotten distracted by other things. Gates uses his fortune to do more than just impose ridiculous evaluations on teachers, but also to impose a common core curriculum that narrows what kids learn to the point of boring them to death. He also seeks to make education 'teacher proof' - mostly by replacing teachers with software. He has supported the growth of charter schools and Teach for America - both of which actively undermine public education. These are quite simply crimes, and a rational society would treat them as such, and given the US locks up people with gay abandon, you might think a they could make room for one more - but in the US the rich are allowed to do what they like. We should be grateful that the US is a far away and across oceans from us, Monica, although the world is increasingly getting smaller, so perhaps even that may not be enough to save us from the likes of Bill.


message 15: by Oleg (new)

Oleg Trevor, you have to read this: https://guzey.com/books/why-we-sleep/


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