Sleep is a cornerstone for health and life. Yet today in the West, we have done the unthinkable. We have chosen to reduce the number of hours that we sleep in a given day. And as Matthew Walker describes in his book Why We Sleep, lack of sleep leads to disastrous results because it limits the healing and learning function of sleep, leaving us partially recovered and unable to think and to learn to our full potential.
Walker’s book has four parts to it. It discusses sleep itself, why we should sleep, dreams, and contemporary sleep-related issues. A major emphasis throughout the book is that sleep affects almost everything we do. The less sleep we have, the more we eat and gain weight. The less sleep we have, the more muscle we lose when we lose weight. The more sleep we have, the greater our ability to learn. The more sleep we have, the greater our ability to fight off cancers. And so on.
Now, these sorts of statements find large bodies of evidence that Walker skillfully cites. He does not fall into the trap of claiming to know exactly how sleep relates to every aspect of our body. But he does underscore how sleep and our lives are so intimately connected.
Not only does he provide a skilful use of evidence, but he also writes well. Clear and interesting prose mark the book. Even if readers are unfamiliar with the science, Walker eases his audience into complex ideas through his clear writing. When he uses technical language, he makes sure to define his terms clearly. He strikes a balance between being understandable while not shying away from necessarily complex language to describe a complex topic: sleep.
Given our contemporary drive to avoid sleep and work more, Walker’s Why We Sleep ought to be read widely. He not only demystifies sleep, but he also shows the seriousness—the mortal danger—of sleep deprivation.
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the science of sleep and also for those who love sleep as I do.
Walker, Matthew. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. Toronto: Scribner, 2017.
Disclaimer: The publisher provided me a review copy of the book with no obligation to give it a positive review.
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