Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker
The Shorter Your Sleep, The Shorter Your Life Span
In WHY WE SLEEP, author Matthew Walker, Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab explains the urgency of getting proper sleep. Getting proper sleep yields a “constellation of nighttime benefits.”
Conversely, not getting enough sleep has devastating results. For example, insufficient sleep wrecks our immune system and doubles the risk of cancer. Of all the scary consequences Dr. Walker mentions, this one scares me the most:
“Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease.”
The author devotes much space to explaining WHY so many people have trouble sleeping. One big reason is that the practice of modern society tends to wreck our sleep. Dr. Walker mentions 5 things in particular:
- Constant electric light;
- Regularized temperature;
- Alcohol, and
- A legacy of punching timecards.
I was especially dismayed to hear that even moderate alcohol interferes with our natural sleep.
“Nightly alcohol will disrupt your sleep, and the annoying advice of abstinence is the best, and most honest, I can offer.”
A big chapter is devoted to explaining how sleeping pills work (or don’t work, as the author explains) About 10 million people in the U.S. use some kind of a sleeping aid, but the benefit is not what is advertised. Amazingly, sleeping aids don’t actually improve sleep: “Sleeping pills help you forget how poorly you are sleeping, rather than actually improving your sleep.”
Another scary warning: Many studies show a “much increased mortality in those who use sleeping pills.”
Instead of drugs or sleep aids, the author recommends “cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia,” or CBT-I. Instead of taking pills, the patient works with therapist using proven techniques to break bad sleep habits.
“CBT-I is more effective than sleeping pills in addressing numerous problematic aspects of sleep for insomnia sufferers.”
The very last part of the book contains some serious suggestions. One in particular stands out. The author argues for making the school day start later. This time would better fit our natural sleep pattern. The author cites one study showing substantial improvement in SAT scores when the school day started 1 hour later.
So all in all, I found WHY WE SLEEP to be an outstanding book. The author writes well, and the book is easy to follow. The author also has the credentials to back up his claims, and often cites studies to support his statements. Dr. Walker cites lots of worrisome statistics, but balances it out by giving practical suggestions on how to improve our sleep.
The author has one key suggestion:
“Going to bed and waking up at the same time of day no matter what. It is perhaps the single most effective way of helping improve your sleep.”