Book review: Why We Sleep

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams.Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

A book on the problems that problems sleeping could have. Does that sound good to you? I mean, the author has given TED talks, been hired by Google and has done the media rounds since this has been published, all on the strength of his scholarly interest in the effects of the Land of Nod.

A book on sleep. Written by a scientist. It’s pretty lucky that it isn’t a big snooze, then, isn’t it?

Any excuse.

*pause for laughter*

All right then.

Walker’s book is part self-help manual and part scientific polemic. It’s defiantly pop-science: though his credentials and research background are sound, the content is presented in a way which eschews difficulty. There’s certainly not going to be piles of these left half-read as there were for A Brief History Of Time – Walker has a pretty good line in snappy anecdotes.

The main thrust of the work is that we pay a lot less respect to sleep than it deserves. And hoo boy, are there some deleterious effects to be found if you ignore your zzzs. Walker [gleefully?] lists them, and they’re not something as minimal as being tired: one’s susceptibility to car accident, heart attack or many other types of unseemly demise are heightened when sleep goes out the window. It’s all a bit grim, but it’s told in a way which keeps the reader entertained, as this type of book demands. It’s airport fare, sure, but it’s intriguing purely because of the universal nature of the topic – we’ve all gotta sleep, right?

(Just don’t expect to be using sleeping pills to hasten a pick-up from Morpheus: Walker has a number of reasons why these are a no-go.)

Of course, it’s not all roses. After I finished the book I looked – very briefly, admittedly – into some criticism of Walker’s work. I’m undecided where I fall as yet, though pages such as this one (with links) make it difficult to maintain the enthusiasm I’d gathered for the book by its end.

Saying that, though, the book is excellent in the way it makes the reader consider the role sleep plays in their life. Could it be better? Could it improve stuff other than wakefulness? Why We Sleep calls for changes in how we approach sleeping as a society, but it’ll also make you wonder whether you’re getting enough.

On that note, I’m off for a nap.

Who doesn’t? If you don’t, you’re DOING IT WRONG.

(This book was supplied by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. It’s published by Penguin and is available now.)

(My Goodreads profile is here.)

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