Why We Sleep was first published in 2017. It is written by Matthew Walker, a scientist and professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. If you were active on social media during 2020, You might have seen it making rounds there. The book is divided into four parts, each related to different aspects of sleep. The first part is dedicated to understanding sleep. The second part discusses the importance of sleep in humans and why you should sleep. How and why we sleep is the third part of the book. It describes the science behind sleep and the entire process of it. The final chapter of the book is dedicated to the lack of sleep, the health issues that are linked with it and the measures to take to better the situation. In the first couple of pages, the author tries to break the ice by writing, “If you feel like sleeping while reading this book, please feel free to do that, I would not mind it at all.” It instantly makes the read slightly lighter as it relies heavily on facts and repercussions. The book points out four major things that sleep takes care of when you are having proper sleep are – happiness, success, health, and safety of a person. The one thing that hinders the process of having a nice sleep is the modern environment. We always focus on eating a healthy diet and working out every day to maintain good health. However, the one thing that we neglect is sleep. We have made sleep secondary. The hustle culture has put a focus on more working and less sleeping. We have made sleep a nuisance as opposed to it being a necessity of the body. According to Matthew Walker, two third of people in developed countries fail to maintain a 7-8 hour ratio for sleep every single day, which leads to deadly driving. The author has even mentioned the fact that if you are driving and are sleep deprived, then you are more likely to cause an accident than driving while the alcohol levels are high in the body.
Sleep deprivation is also a cause of severe mental health conditions like anxiety,depression, and even Alzheimer’s. The author has given a detailed explanation of how sleep works and what kind of hormones are involved while we are sleeping. Walker has even explained how birds and fish sleep which gives an interesting perspective to such a mundane activity. ‘Why We Sleep’ also talks about caffeine and how it remains in our bodies even after 5-7 hours of having it. Almost half the amount of caffeine remains in our bodies after hours of consuming it. The book focuses on how sleep is important for the enhancement of memory. When we sleep our brain sorts things into places that we have learnt throughout the day. When we wake up after a good night’s sleep, our brain is like a blank slate for new memories to form. If you are sleep deprived and not sleeping properly, the memories you have created throughout the day will not get stored. It makes it easier for your brain to forget things and not store them for future use. The author then talks about the quality and quantity of sleep and how to improve its quality. He has given some basic pointers to enhance the quality. He suggests the use of blackout curtains, sticking to a sleep schedule, and avoiding napping after 3 pm.
He further explains the differences and characteristics of a morning person and an evening person. There are three types of people in this world – 40% of the world population comprises people who are morning persons, 30% are evening persons, and the remaining 30% are a mix between morning and evening persons. A morning person is someone who is wide awake in the morning. They jump out of their beds and are always ready to take on challenges in the early hours of the day. The evening person is the complete opposite of the morning person. They are more awake during the evening hours, and they don’t feel the sluggishness that comes with the later hours. According to Matthew Walker, being a morning person or an evening person is also dependent on a person’s genetics. The artificial lights around us are hurting our system. In natural conditions, when the sun is setting melatonin gets released, and it signals the brain to send the body to sleep. But because of the artificial lights, there is no contrast between morning and night and the entire sleeping process has gotten messed up. Our brains cannot fathom the changes between day and night which leads to insomnia, poor sleep quality, and fatigue throughout the day. ‘Why We Sleep’ is an in-depth understanding of the sleeping process. It gives you facts and emphasises the importance of it. The book, since its publication, has received scientific and factual error claims. Alexey Guzey, who works on New Science, talks about the shortcomings of the book in a detailed article on his blog. ‘Matthew Walker’s “Why We Sleep” is riddled with scientific and factual errors’ has received a lot of attention. Walker has not replied to the claims in his book. While ‘Why We Sleep’ is an eye-opener and provides you with a different perspective on sleep, read it with a grain of salt.