Review of Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

A look at the newly released Why We Sleep book, looking at the science of sleep and what really goes on while we slumber...

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It's probably a bit cheesy to describe a book as life changing, but trust me when I say that I am not the same person I was a week ago before I picked up this book.

We all know that sleep is important to our health. When we're ill, we sleep. We feel rubbish if we don't get enough of it. 

I remember a few times last year, stomping through my day, groggy and unable to function, because I hadn't slept the previous night. And at uni, I'd stay up reading huge books into the early hours, trying to press knowledge into my brain for exams. And partying. There was that, too. We'd stay out until around 6am, and stop into McDonald's for breakfast on the way home. Then I'd catch a couple of hours sleep and be in my first lecture of the day at 10am. 

Oh my word. 

As a society, we don't prioritise sleep. We almost treat lack of it as a badge of honour. We get kids up early for school (ever noticed how they sleep in so late in the holidays when we don't wake them up?), work hard into the night on shifts. We drink caffeine to keep us awake. And we take sleeping pills to get us to sleep. Or so we think. 

Enter Matthew Walker and his book Why We Sleep

The book contains quite a lot of neuroscience, but you'll be pleased to know that it's very easy to understand, relatable and funny. So you get it. It goes into why we sleep in the first place, and how we evolved to sleep. One startling fact that I learned from the book (there were so many) was that if you don't sleep at all, you will eventually die. And here we are celebrating our lack of it, every day. I know. Shocking. 

Lack of sleep, the book explains, is linked to many other conditions, such as cancer, obesity, Alzheimer's and a lower functioning immune system. Less than 7 hours of shut eye will leave you with a brain that's not ready to learn or problem-solve efficiently. You'll also learn about the man who had a very rare sleep disorder, and was unable to sleep at all. His tragic story makes my eyes itch and my eyelids feel heavy just thinking about it.

So what does sleep actually do? We're stuck there, lying down, unconscious to the outside world, but what's going on underneath those eyelids? Plenty, let me tell you. Even the act of falling asleep in the first place is triggered by a perfect mixture of brain chemicals that flick the inside switch and send you off snoozing. Get any of those out of balance with exercise, caffeine, alcohol, lighting or anxiety and you might find yourself staring at the ceiling for longer than you'd like. 

Another complete shock to me is that you can never repay your sleep debt. So you can't wake up early and go to bed late all week, sleep in on a Sunday and expect to be back at 100% charge by Monday morning. It just doesn't happen like that. So I'm still carrying the biological load of my all-nighters at uni around with me today. A consistent lack of sleep can have very serious consequences to your health. So basically I'm in bed now, after a small cup of camomile tea and my favourite book at 9pm so I don't inflict any more damage to my previously-sleep-deprived brain. 

Geeks like me will love the references to scientific studies throughout the book. Those who know they need better quality sleep (if you're waking up using an alarm each day, then this is you) will find lots of ways of helping to fix their sleep. It's not enough to just read a list and follow it through - it's much more concrete to really understand what's going on in your brain and then put it into practice. Knowing what I know now, I find it really easy to troubleshoot mine and my family's sleep. And I can't stress to you how important that is. 

At the back of the book Matthew Walker proposes changes to society and how we could go about using existing and developing technology and tweaking social norms to develop a civilisation that understands the importance of good sleep and subsequently lives longer, healthier and better quality lives. I'm telling my children all about this, and I'm hoping they'll pass it on as they grow up and have children of their own. 

So much knowledge in this book. It will change you, for the better, I promise. And, at the price, it's a bargain. Do yourself a favour and read it. 

Life changing. 

Find the book here on Amazon

Have you read the book? What did you find most interesting? How do you prioritise your sleep? Let me know in the comments below...