Why We Sleep: Mathew Walker [1/9]

How did you come across the book?

Why We Sleep was first recommended to me by Oliver Banz and again by Stephanie Fulton (thank you both), two individuals that I hold in high regard and was therefore happy, if not a little intimidated, to take their reading recommendation.

What is the book about?

I don’t want to over complicate things - it’s pretty much what it says on the tin. It looks at what sleep is, what different types there are, how you can improve it and what are the purported health benefits and consequences of not getting enough sleep.

What is your favourite quote or passage from the book?

My favourite section of the book is more of a thought really.

There is one commonality between all the living creatures on this planet and this is that we all sleep in some form or another. However whilst you sleep you can’t hunt, eat, mate, defend yourself or do anything of use. So essentially it's time where you are the least ‘useful’ and most vulnerable. Yet despite this, the process of evolution chooses not to eliminate this practice.

Either this is an enormous mistake in the evolutionary process, or the benefits of sleep are greater than we really know.

What are your three key takeaways?

This part is probably the section where I should tell you three tips that can help you sleep, but I can’t help myself, there are just far more interesting things to share:

  • We anecdotally call people earls birds, or night owls, but this is actually something determined by your genes and is called a chronotype. The evolutionary reason for this difference dates back to when we lived in larger numbers. The tribe reduced collective vulnerability (e.g everyone being asleep at once) by having different sleeping patterns. Clever.

  • There is such a thing as the sleepless elite. Those with a special gene (BHLHE41) who appear to function on five hours sleep per night. I know what you’re thinking, I also thought I was in the club. The author then goes on to explain that “The number of these people who can survive on five hours of sleep or less without impairment, expressed as a percentage and rounded to a whole number, is zero.”

  • When birds are alone, one half of the brain and its corresponding eye must stay awake, maintaining vigilance to threats. While it does this, the other eye closes, allowing its corresponding half of the brain to sleep. This also happens in Dolphins, the two sides of the brain decouple and operate independently, one remaining awake while the other sleeps.

Now back to more serious matters.

When I started my career, lack of sleep was nearly a badge of honour that represented how hard you worked, how much more productive you could be and how much greater your dedication was.

I am glad to see that in the last few years and the wake of new knowledge, the importance of sleep has increased and this concept is no longer significantly at play. But if you do need something more to convince you I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

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