Review: Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker. Scribner.

Description (from NetGalley)


The first sleep book by a leading scientific expert—Professor Matthew Walker, Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab—reveals his groundbreaking exploration of sleep, explaining how we can harness its transformative power to change our lives for the better.

Sleep is one of the most important but least understood aspects of our life, wellness, and longevity. Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, or what good it served, or why we suffer such devastating health consequences when we don’t sleep. Compared to the other basic drives in life—eating, drinking, and reproducing—the purpose of sleep remained elusive.

But an explosion of scientific discoveries in the last twenty years has shed new light on this fundamental aspect of our lives. Now, preeminent neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker gives us a new understanding of the vital importance of sleep and dreaming. Among so many other things, within the brain, sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Dreaming mollifies painful memories and creates a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge to inspire creativity.

Walker answers important questions about sleep: how do caffeine and alcohol affect sleep? What really happens during REM sleep? Why do our sleep patterns change across a lifetime? How do common sleep aids affect us and can they do long-term damage? Charting cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, and synthesizing decades of research and clinical practice, Walker explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood, and energy levels; regulate hormones; prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes; slow the effects of aging; increase longevity; enhance the education and lifespan of our children, and boost the efficiency, success, and productivity of our businesses. Clear-eyed, fascinating, and immensely accessible, Why We Sleep is the crucial account on sleep that will forever change readers’ minds on the subject.


My Review:

A good night’s sleep. Something we all want, but for many it proves elusive. As a practicing psychotherapist, difficulties with sleep are something that nearly all my patients report. Until now, I really didn’t know what to tell them.


The material is admirably arranged into four parts. Part 1 “This Thing Called Sleep” is all about what sleep is; Part 2 “Why Should You Sleep” enumerates the benefits of sleep, and the negative effects of insufficient sleep; Part 3 “How and Why We Dream” is, clearly, about dreaming; Part 4 “From Sleeping Pills to Society Transformed” is all about what keeps us from sleep and what can help–and how important sleep is to our society as a whole.


This is an important book. I am so impressed with it, I feel it should be required reading for everyone. I certainly plan to recommend it to all my patients. I also plan to read it again; Dr. Walker offers so much here that one reading can’t really take it all in. And this publication is certainly timely: it has just been announced that the Nobel Prize this year for Medicine is given to three circadian rhythm researchers. What is so important about circadian rhythm? Read this book, and find out!


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