Exploring the world of
sleep through the lens of
a ‘sleep scientist’

Photo by Ann Danilina on Unsplash

Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep highlights the importance of sleep but also goes beyond what we already know about it by exploring the impact less sleep has on everything from Education to Healthcare.

When we were born we weren’t very interesting we’re told. We would sleep most of the day and when we woke up we would just cry. As we grew up we also grew out of sleep it seems. What was almost always a 10-hour sleep turned to 8 and by the time we were in college, it went down to 4 for some. Honestly, when I picked up the book “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker, I was part of the few who believed in the importance of sleep. I had seen the impact it had on me and I was convinced that the “all-nighters” that my friends undertook during examinations were not as good as they thought they were. Despite knowing that the book is by a Neuroscientist and a Sleep Researcher and that it would expose me to more facts about Sleep I wasn’t prepared for the information that this book exposed me to and how much of it I had taken for granted. Walker has divided the book into four main parts yet
the beauty of this book is in how an individual can pick up any part based upon their interest.

Each part is interestingly put forth by the writer and the flow is maintained throughout.
Part 1 of the book describes the concept of Sleep. The dreaded what, why, when, how, and how much sleep are discussed in this section. How we should sleep and how much we sleep across our lifespan from childhood to old-age is explored in this section.

Part 2 discusses the good, the bad, and the ugly of sleep and sleep loss. The effect that sleep has on our brains is tackled first. Followed by the consequences that lack of sufficient sleep has on our health in terms of Cancer, Heart Attack, and a Shorter life.

Part 3 is probably the section that most people would be interested in, which is “Dreams”. This section is succinctly explained by the author and unlike Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, this was not as complex to understand, and has demystified the concept of dreams for a student and would do so for an individual interested in sleep in general.

Part 4 is perhaps even more relevant to our present circumstances and the keen interest in biohacking and sleep. Sleep Disorders, the role of technology in sleep deprivation and insomnia, the contention between medicine pills and therapy for Sleep, and finally — Sleep and Society. This last part discusses what is wrong with how our society is utilizing sleep in the field of Medicine and Education.

Throughout the book, there are various examples that Walker gives from the field of Medicine and Education that stick with you till the end of the book. One such instance is when he discusses night shifts for doctors. How they
impact the circadian rhythm and how they further impact the doctor’s diagnosis and treatment which is a potential healthcare hazard.

The second such instance of sleep deprivation is discussed in the Educational setting when Walker mentions that the schooling system which requires children to come to school early was a modern concept that was started because people were working and needed to send their children to school at an earlier time. In one of the researches that were done on students appearing for SAT tests in the United States, it was found that children who had appropriate amounts of sleep performed better compared to the control
group. The real-world implications of this book are immense! The healthcare burden that any society has to bear can be reduced drastically if we learn how to manage our sleep better. NASA for example is trying to look at technology to improve the sleep cycles of their astronauts in space and various companies such as Google understand the need for proper sleep for their employee’s productivity and development.

The Public Health Impact of Sleep Deprivation is immense and this book will be useful in educating individuals about the importance of sleep which is often considered a ‘filthy’ word by many including politicians but also their television version’s (case in point when Frank Underwood in House of Cards finds sleep to be a total waste of time). Walker is curious about how many politicians like Ronald Regan who were proponents of a few hours of sleep later in life developed Alzheimer’s, others like politician Margaret Thatcher developed Dementia. The example of various Yogis and Sadhus has been given. I wholeheartedly support this notion that meditation has various benefits, it is even more powerful than sleep-exercise-nutrition some would say,but it is important to acknowledge that in our lifestyles where we are working 9 to 5’s and probably have less than an hour to meditate this cop-out is not enough. Sleep is important and unless there is significant research to prove otherwise I will personally stick to my 7–8 hour sleep pattern.

Yet it is necessary to acknowledge that our bodies are incredible! We have adapted over so many years and even our way of sleeping has changed so much. Therefore we should be easy on ourselves when it comes to occasional sleep deprivation as our bodies have the power to bounce back from so many hardships that it endures daily.

I think that this book must be read by both supporters of sleep and also those trying to optimize their functioning with as little sleep as they can.

Matthew Walker has published over 200 research articles and as some people just find it easier to believe a researcher than they do their parents who’ve been telling them to sleep early or the age-old “early to bed early to rise..”, this book is definitely a game-changer, yet will we allow it to be one?