Why We Sleep – Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, Walker, Mathew, PhD

An in-depth summary of current knowledge on the subject, by a researcher and sleep-geek unafraid to sound like a prophet in the wilderness.  His central creed is the imperative of 7 to 9 hours of sleep for every adult (more for children, varying by age), of an early to bed early to rise schedule that aligns with the sun’s presence and, most diabolically, of later school start times that would allow developing brains the early-morning REM sleep which data prove are critical to their ability to learn and, even more, to complete the complex brain-development necessary to achieve a healthy adult personality and abilities.

The many research citations go a long way to convince, as they also amaze with the cleverness of researchers, finding ways to determine what goes on during sleep, in minds that are, by definition, in no condition to report it.  Brain wave analysis is an obvious technical aid, but the comparison experiments he relates – involving specific sorts of lessons and challenges presented before and following specific extents of specific types of sleep – are more surprising. As is just the simple revelation that there are so many stages of sleep, each with its own character and purpose. 

A subject as broad as this naturally demands a polymath, and Walker is enough of one to cite pharmacology and chemistry in support of his arguments, literature regarding the origins of our long held illusions and more literature to show that humans have known at least some of this for generations, we’ve just allowed other priorities to blind us to what our bodies are screaming.  If we are to rise to the many challenges we humans create for ourselves ( politics, wars, climate change, social change, pandemics and general pandemonium, to name just a few), we’d do well to follow his advice.

Saving his most potent Jeremiad for last, the author addresses sleep aids, crying out against profitable products that make no effort to treat underlying conditions, but rather, simply sedate the user into a simulacrum of sleep with none of its functions.  If my own experience with Ambien during a week of all-nighters and 12-hour jet lag had not already been enough to turn me off of the stuff, this book certainly would.

Deserves to be more widely read.  And followed, though one holds out little help for that, in this age of pods, pads, tablets, laptops and streaming, screening, screaming masses.

Sleep well!

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