Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

Author: Mathew Walker PhD
Pages: 368

One Line Review

One word actually – Profound. Ironically, it didn’t put me to sleep. Gripping.

The One thing: What is the most important point the author makes in the book?

There must be a radical shift in the personal, cultural, professional, and societal appreciation of sleep. Sleep education should be included in the school curriculum so that the coming generations are aware of the dangers of insufficient sleep. Insufficient sleep is commonly tolerated perhaps encouraged in professional circles. Underslept employees are not just less productive less motivated less creative less happy and lazier but they are also more unethical. Insufficient sleep problems cost nations more than 2% of GDP, almost as much as each country invests in education. As modern-day torture methods are deviously designed to leave no evidence of physical assault, sleep deprivation continues to be used for interrogation by several countries in the world today. Societal apathy towards sleep must be addressed.

One big learning

Technology is an ally, not an enemy.
The 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics went to the invention of blue light-emitting diodes (LED). Great in terms of low energy demands and longer lifespan but for us, the evening blue LED light had twice the harmful impact at night with lesser creation of melatonin- the hormone required for sleep. (This is also what happens when we stare at laptop screens, smartphones, or tablets enriched with blue LED light.) In the last section of the book, Vision for Sleep in the 21st century, the author speaks of how we will not succeed in putting the technological genie back into the bottle. And so, instead of battling against technology, we must use it to our benefit. E.g. high accuracy sleep trackers can be married with home network devices like thermostats and lighting. The bio physiology calculated by these intelligent trackers can be used to tailor the sleep environment, personalized to each individual occupant of a bedroom. Thereby improving the speed of sleep onset, increasing total sleep time, and deepening the sleep quality for all household members.

How did the book impact me? My changed perspectives

Sleeplessness is an individual/ personal problem.
The silent epidemic of Sleeplessness is the greatest public health challenges we face in the 21st century in developed nations. Deep currents of sleep neglect circulate and it is for this reason that the World Health Organization now has declared the lack of societal sleep as a Global Health epidemic. On average one out of every two adults across all developed countries will not get the necessary sleep they need this week but most importantly these individuals will not report wanting or needing more sleep. Even, global catastrophes like the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl and oil spill at Exxon Valdez, were caused by sleep deprived fatigue.

Stay in bed until you fall asleep.
Two new tips to sleeping well, I learned from the book, are having the right sunlight exposure and not lying in bed awake. Sleep experts recommend that if you have problems falling asleep you should get an hour of exposure to morning sunlight and turn out the lights before bedtime. Similarly, if you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more than 20 minutes it is advised to get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.

The ability to stay awake and not sleep is a superpower.
Understanding the mental and physical harm caused by prolonged sleep deprivation, in 1986 Guinness ceased to recognize any attempt to break the world record for sleep deprivation. They also deleted any sleep deprivation records from their previous records for fear that they would encourage such future acts of deliberate sleep abstinence.

Sleep could help memory retention. Nothing more.
Psychologist doctor Lewis Terman who constructed the IQ Test, discovered that a child’s intellectual success was promoted by sufficient sleep. Terman found that no matter what the age the longer the child slept the more intellectually gifted they were. Even your individual immunity is closely tied to the quality of your sleep. Getting 4 to 6 hours of sleep a night in the week before your flu shot means that you will produce less than half of the normal antibody response required while 7 hours of sleep consistently returns a powerful and comprehensive immunization response.

❌ The lack of sleep could affects motivation and productivity max.
Similar to drowsy driving road accidents, reports have discovered that medical errors are the third leading cause of death among Americans after heart attacks and cancer. After continuous 30-hour shifts exhausted residents are 73% more likely to injure themselves, causing transmission of bloodborne infectious diseases. (The next time I visit a doctor, I may enquire how much sleep he or she has had.) There are over 100 kinds of sleep disorders – some that have even resulted in murders.

Sleep pills are a solution
Apart from the side effects and rebound insomnia, if you compare natural deep sleep brain wave activity to that induced by sleeping pills, it is noted that the signature or quality is deficient.

Thank God for Alarm clocks! And the Snooze button
Alarm clocks prematurely and artificially terminate sleep. Those rudely awakened by an alarm suffer a spike in blood pressure and shock acceleration in heart rate. The snooze button only means that you will repeatedly inflict the same cardiovascular assault again and again within a short span of time until you awake. Repeating this 5 days a week means multiplicative abuse of the heart and nervous system across your lifespan.

6 or 7 hours of sleep should do
Two-thirds of adults throughout all developed nations fail to obtain the recommended 8 hours of nightly sleep. These countries, where sleep time has declined dramatically over the past century, have registered increased rates of physical diseases and mental disorders. Routinely sleeping less than 6 or 7 hours a night demolishes your immune system and doubles your risk of cancer. Even moderate reductions for just one week disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping increases the likelihood of your arteries becoming blocked and brittle, leading to cardiovascular disease and heart failure.

Night owls are so by choice
Society typically treats night owls unfairly – labelled lazy, chastising them for their preferences, on the assumptions that their behavior is a matter of choice. However, studies reveal that this delayed schedule is not their conscious faulted choice but their genetic fate. Interestingly, mother nature passed on this biological trait as this increased the survival rate of a species. As a social species, humans evolved to co-sleep as families or tribes. In a group, if the larks slept 9pm to 5am and owls from 1am to 9am – the collective vulnerability of the group is just 4 hours (and not eight) – 50% increase in survival fitness! An adult’s owlness or larkness – called chronotype- is strongly determined by genetics.

Closing thoughts

Sleep remains one of the last great biological mysteries. Then again, if it didn’t serve an absolutely vital function then it is probably the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made. The book succeeds in explaining the science behind this remarkable Swiss army knife of Health and Wellness, to bring about a cultural appreciation of sleep and reverse our neglect of it. I will never think of Sleep the same way again.

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