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by Matthew Walker
Scribner, 2017
Review by Christian Perring on Mar 13th 2018

Why We Sleep

Matthew Walker sets out why sleep is essential to our health and wellbeing. Why We Sleep is an alarming book since so many of us go without enough sleep, and it shows that this places us at a risk for many diseases, and it impairs our learning. It causes major social problems with work lost to illness, and causing sleep-deprived people to crash their cars. Walker cites many studies demonstrating these problems, making it hard to dispute his claims. He also examines the many causes of sleep problems, from caffeine and alcohol to smart phones and late night TV, and he shows how these interfere with our sleep. It is particularly alarming how sensitive we are to possible interruptions of our sleep and how even small sleep deficits can have serious effects. He makes the usual recommendations for how to improve our sleep -- consistent bed times, reduced alcohol and no caffeine long before bedtime, a cool dark room, and no screen time an hour before bed. If there's one criticism to make, it is that he pays very little attention to individual variation between people -- he acknowledges that some people need more and some people need less sleep, but he says very little about how much variation there is, and lays down the law that everyone needs between 7 and 9 hours sleep time. He is very clear that sleeping pills are counterproductive except for very specific short periods. It would be good to have more of the book explaining how to actually improve one's sleep, assessing the efficacy of different methods. As it stands, Walker's book makes a strong case for the importance of sleep and the problems caused by different kinds of sleep deprivation, but is weaker on sleep solutions.


© 2018 Christian Perring


Christian Perring teaches in NYC.


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