why we sleep

Review :

So, this book is both a must read and deeply, deeply disturbing. I've been having trouble sleeping for the last few years and now I'm going to have to do something about it, simple as that, because the consequences of not sleeping properly are appalling.

For instance, it provides you, free of charge, with an increased risk of diabetes, dementia (in all its fun and various guises), weight gain, heart disease and even accidental death. And the situation is getting worse. We are losing sleep at a rate of knots as we squeeze the nights from both ends. Add to that the fact that our world is now awash with night-time blue light - the frequency of light we have used to tell us it is day-time ever since before we were even fish - and this particular self-created train wreck just keeps a-roll'n along.

There were times in this where he would say things and I would think, 'oh yeah, see that, you've gone too far this time' - for instance, his saying that driving with a sleep deficit is worse than driving while drunk, having done both, I figured I knew better. But then he justifies this by saying that when you are drunk your reaction times are reduced, but you generally still react - but when you are sleep deprived you drop (without warning) into micro sleeps and while in them you do not react at all. You know, you are asleep.

And then he reminds us of the stereotypical truck driver (by the way, in most states in the US, there are more truck drivers than any other occupation). Truck drivers are often over-weight, which is directly correlated with sleep apnoea, that is, a condition likely to increase the number of times you fall into micro-sleeps. Did I mention I found this book terrifying

The other bit of this that really struck me was the correlation between anxiety and a lack of sleep. It is almost as if we are unable to trust people as we get less and less sleep. And this also translates into an inability to lay down new memories - that is, learn things. In fact, something students often do is stay up all night studying for an exam - on the basis of 'never do today what you can do five minutes before it is almost too late'. But such a lack of sleep is likely to leave them feeling under-confident, anxious and also seriously impaired in their ability to actually learn and remember anything they have spent the night staring blankly at.

This is part of the reason why he says the shift in the US towards earlier school starting times is such a bad idea. He presents an evolutionary biology just-so story that goes: adolescents need a safe-ish way to move out of the parental nest. They do this by their body clock shifting so they stay awake later (when their parents are asleep), so they can interact with other young people in a relatively safe environment, and this means they therefore wake later than their parents too. But then we force them out of bed at 6 or earlier to cross town to go to a school that starts at 7am, and getting up at that time feels to them like getting out of bed at 4am, bad things are likely to happen. How can they possibly learn in that state Whether or not the evolutionary story is right, it does seem teens do need to stay up later and to sleep in longer, and we ought to respect that. It also seems there is such a thing as night-owls, and our forcing them to work at the crack of dawn is just as cruel and just as stupid as our forcing teenagers to do the same thing.

You need to get hold of this book and to read it - and it is written by someone who does research in the field, so, not just some random guy who likes nice good sleep-in in the morning and figures you should like it too. I can't tell you how many times I thought while reading this, 'oh, for god's sake'. This was not the mirror I felt I needed to look into at the moment, but then, I guess that means it is exactly the mirror I needed to look into.


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