Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

Reviewed on , book by Matthew Walker

Pretty sleep-frantic experience reading this book. Especially since I read some chapters in the middle of the night, where I couldn’t fall back asleep. Reading this in a state riddled with insomnia-induced anxiety, the interpretation was: You’re going to die if you don’t fall asleep right about now. This aside, what a wonderful compilation of sleep research. The studies mentioned in this book make it clear to me that cutting sleep short to wake up and work on something is a nonsensical treadmill, since you’ll just remember less of what you did yesterday. The study referenced I found most terrifying is that just a night of drinking (to around the legal limit for driving) can reduce what you retain on that day by 40-50%. Even worse, if you learn something on Wednesday and drink on Friday, there’s still two digit percentage amnesia. I found this mind-boggling. Overall, book clinched that if you say that you’re fine on 5-6 hours of sleep you’re an idiot (or, in life circumstances that makes it hard to do something different—but, hopefully not under the illusion that it’s fine). You don’t have a ‘gene.’ And you can’t “catch up with sleep.” If you spend your day learning, not sleeping is like closing Word without saving.

Why not 5 stars? I feel that he could’ve dispelled or confirmed more of the sleep zeitgeist such as magnesium supplements, marijuana, and others. The book could be a lot more prescriptive. Yes, Mr. Walker, you make it pretty clear that jet lag is just about the worst thing you can do to your body. But how do you recommend combatting it? What’s your secret sleep sauce? No dice. The book reminds me of the early popular books on gut bacteria where it seems like the solution we’ve been looking for all along to ADHD, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases. Walker could be a bit more nuanced, because he’s claiming basically the same, for the same diseases. I mean, maybe he’s right, I’m not a doctor—but this type of argument triggers my bullshit alarm bells.

That said, this is a read well-worth your time—but this doesn’t quite obtain the Bible-status in the sleep genre to me.