I was killing time in WH Smith in Kings Cross and in the mood to buy a book. As I was having a bad bout of insomnia at the time, a book about sleeping and how to do it better struck me as a good choice. I certainly wasn’t disappointed by Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep.
Matthew Walker is a neuroscientist who has studied sleep for his whole career. It starts with what sleep is and what happens in the body to make you go to sleep and wake up, and how we can disrupt our body’s natural rhythm, and how it changes over our lifetimes. It also looks at how different animals sleep which is very varied.
The section on the benefits of sleep was interesting but somewhat disturbing, given the very scary effects of not getting enough sleep. The most enlightening part was the section on dreaming. New research suggests that dreaming is the way we process and reduce the intensity of our daily emotional experience. It’s not so much about the crazy things that are happening in your dreams but the feelings you’re having while it’s going on. I don’t remember my dreams very often, but I assume it’s happening.
The last part of the book looks at the impact of modern life on sleeping patterns: our working lives, new technology, and especially electric light. Our bodies want to sleep when the sun goes down and get up when it rises. Apparently. Not sure my body got the memo. It ends with a page of tips on how to sleep better.
I loved this. I’ve been recommending it to anyone who mentions sleep and sleep problems to me. It’s pretty dense and loaded with scientific information but written so well you barely notice.