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Sleep and Vigilance

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 93–94 | Cite as

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, Ph.D.

Scriber, An Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. New York, USA, 2017, 368 Pages
Book Review
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Sleep is pivotal for human health, well-being and longevity. Sleep is often considered as a powerful elixir of wellness and vitality. Insufficient sleep, on the contrary, has devastating consequences. It causes a host of illnesses, compromises health and safety, productivity and quality of life. Sleep loss has become an epidemic problem and results in personal, familial, societal and public health concerns. Open image in new window

The author of this book, Matthew Walker, Ph.D., is a notable sleep expert who is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, and the Director of its Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab. He was a former professor of psychiatry at the Harvard University. He has completed his Ph.D. in neurophysiology, supported by a fellowship from Medical Research Council (MRC), London.

In this book, Dr. Walker stresses the importance of reclaiming our rights to a full night of sleep without embarrassment, or the stigma of laziness. The book ‘Why We Sleep’ refers to the 8 h of recommended sleep. He has discussed a 360° evaluation on taking proper sleep, and its positive outcome. Simultaneously, he has described the consequences of insufficient sleep, which can result in various diseases. Abnormally high blood sugar levels, cardiovascular strokes, depression and anxiety attacks leading to suicidal thoughts are some common results of sleep deprivation.

Dr. Walker has discussed the prevalence of sleep sickness due to sleep disorders, which lead to physical and mental dysfunctions. The extreme result of sleep deprivation may also be a shorter lifespan. This book dives deep and reveals sleep’s connection to health. It demonstrates that every bodily organ revitalizes with sleep. To sum up, sleep works as a refreshing ‘vitamin’!

Generally, on average, an individual remains awake for approximately two-thirds of his life. Dr. Walker has discussed sleep benefits, learning ability, diversity of body functions, enhancing memorizing capacity, making logical decisions and improving psychological and emotional health.

The main purpose and benefit of sleep discussed by Dr. Walker is to ignite brain and body health each and every day. This book is a journey of discoveries to revise the cultural attitudes to sleep.

This book, ‘Why We Sleep’ has been structured into four main parts. The first part is an attempt to define sleep across the human lifespan. Part two summarizes the good, bad, and the ugly aspects of the lack of sleep for the brain and body. Part three discusses the scientific underpinning of dreams. Finally, part four is about bench to bedside aspects of sleep. It discusses insomnia and sleeping pills, along with a discussion on the clinical data results. These chapters are not arranged in a progressive manner; rather it can be read individually in any order without losing the key information. This is the main advantage of this book.

Dr. Walker has discussed in-depth the relation between ‘desire to sleep’ and ‘want to stay awake’. In doing so, the basics of circadian rhythm, the chronobiotic actions of melatonin, and the two-process model of sleep regulation have been discussed.

Dr. Walker has discussed two factual universal indicators of sleep. One is losing external awareness by getting the sensory gate of the brain blocked by thalamus. The second indicator is a sense of time distortion.

A fact needs to be understood that sleep is not an option, but an obligation in life. The requirement in terms of quantity and quality varies among individuals and among different ages. The time duration required for people in different age brackets can vary quite a lot. As old age gets near, the rejuvenating power of sleep declines, and physical, mental and mortality risks increase. The level of body energy also deteriorates. Depression, lower cognitive functions, and forgetfulness take place. Through study and experiments, it has been observed that older adults become unable to have deep sleep. Poor sleep can result in ill health and various diseases as Alzheimer, diabetes, depression, anxiety and chronic pain.

It is well known that ‘sleep is the universal health care provider’ (Walker, pg. 108, line 1), and also comes with no fee. Numerous brain functions depend on sleep. Losing out on sleep may be a cause of brain impairment. Having a nap during the day has demonstrated to help in improving memory. Maintaining sleep quality replenishes and refreshes motor function, allowing top performance for skilled athletes and workers. Finally, the most effective benefit of sleep discussed in this section is creativity.

In closing, the new vision for sleep in the twenty-first century has been discussed. In this chapter, Dr. Walker argues that the lack of shut-eye is a slow form of self-euthanasia and offers a roadmap of interventional opportunities. In this five-step roadmap, he discussed individual-level transformation, followed by a societal transformation. Dr. Walker, after discussing sleep along with pros and cons, has given a number of tips for a healthy sleep. His tips are easy to follow, simple to adopt and health promoting. People in any age bracket can easily follow these tips and take great benefit from them.

‘Why we sleep’ is not a self-help book that one can read and seek a cure for their sleep disorder. This book is not a reference volume, nor does it provide depth of medical information for sleep disorder patients, or parents of children with serious sleep problems. It is not a book that discusses the range of sleep disorders in-depth either. If a reader who bought the book was seeking a straightforward answer for the question “why we sleep”, they might still be disappointed. This is because the function of sleep is still a mystery, and it is one of the unsolved problems in neuroscience. “What then, is the value of this book?” one might ask. What does it offer?

Sleep is a very popular topic, and there are numerous self-help books available. Unlike many other books written by novice authors, or someone who has very little information or exposure to the field of sleep medicine, this book was written by a competent, world-renowned sleep expert who spend decades of cutting edge research in the field of sleep medicine. By writing this absolutely fascinating book, Dr. Walker has exhibited a tour-de-force. The book is highly informative, well-organized, a clearly written and easily readable book that is packed with much useful scientific information for patients, and sleep professionals alike. Insufficient sleep and poor quality sleep are pervasive in the modern 24 h society. Rather than delving into specific sleep issues, this book focuses on aspects of the importance of sleep, overall.

Dr. Walker makes a sobering yet sensible plea to the masses. That is, take sleep seriously. Dr. Walker’s book is an eye opener for those who wants to take their sleep seriously, and thereby teaches the foundation of sleep science, and its health imperatives. In addition, this book is an interesting read and will be an important addition to one’s personal library no matter if that person is a patient or a physician. Sleep plays a vital part of everyone’s life. Therefore, the importance of sleep can never be discounted.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Somnogen Canada IncTorontoCanada

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