After Reading "Why We Sleep"

Dr. Matthew Walker is a sleep messiah. I have probably never come across anyone in the academic circle who is such an avid proponent of sleep. Most of the academics I know will advocate to trade sleep for getting work done. I heard about this book last year from Bill Gates blog. I had decided to give it a go as I was coming back from home.

This book is divided into four parts. Part one talks about what sleep is, especially for mammals. It goes on describing the mechanics of sleep, different types of sleeps, how circadian rhythm got implanted in species. I enjoyed the detailed description of sleep stages and how our body and brain behaves in those stages. It was also delightful to see how these stages change as we age.

The second part of the book talks about various benefits of sleep. Although most of the topics described here are familiar to us anecdotally, Dr, Walker summons various scientific studies that were done to bolster the claimed benefits of sleeping well. This is the part of the book which I enjoyed the least. While I understand there are benefits to sleep, I also have a healthy skepticism about scientifics studies where p-value hacking has become the norm. Also statistically significance does not always mean practical significance. So, while I am not in a position to discard all the evidence presented, I cannot also blindly accept them without going through them individually.

Third part of the book deals with dreams which I also found informative and fascinating. It was nice to know about how dreams help with learning, forming memories and healing. The fourth part of the book talks about better sleep hygiene. It also talks about how industrialization shifted the sleeping norm that was developed over ten thousand years within a mere two hundred years. The book brazenly points out how being productive while sleeping less is celebrated in the workplace and warns that this might do more harm than benefits in the long run. One important thing concerned me is how the early start of schools affects the learning of students. There are few isolated initiatives to change this. But I hope leaders across the world are looking at it more seriously.

I am a morning person and I found out that I had an unconscious bias against people who are not morning people. This book told me that there is a genetic aspect of why someone might be a night owl versus an early bird. So, going forward, I would like to be mindful about that. One thing I still have a question is whether someone can make lifestyle choices to turn them from one kind to another and what are the health implications of that. Another important discovery is that no amount of future sleep can cross out past sleeping debt. The sleep that was lost, was lost forever. No amount of future sleep can recover the brain from what was lost.

Long ago, I read in a book that Dr. Muhammed Shahidullah was complaining that we waste almost a third of our life sleeping. I had always disagreed with the notion of waste when it came to sleep. This book is helping me to stand firm on that disagreement. While it was known that there are benefits of sleeping adequately, this book helps to prop up the arguments in a scientific manner for anyone who is looking for some defense.

Finally, this book has prompted me to reexamine my sleeping habits. I am more conscious about my sleeping patterns and sleep cycles. I look forward to better sleep hygiene.

Published at: 04/05/2020