Review by: Ava S.

Get your copy of Why We Sleep here!

As readers, we can probably all relate to the following situation: it’s late at night. Everyone else in your family, and possibly your whole street, is already asleep. You definitely should be asleep but… just one more page! No, one more chapter! Sacrificing sleep for the sake of finishing a good book at 3am may be fun but before you make this a routine event I recommend everyone, reader or not, to check out Why We Sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker. This book discusses in an engaging and hilarious way why it truly is so important to get our full 8 hours of sleep. And not just that, he also explores in captivating writing style all the unknowns about sleep science, dreams, diseases, and just the mysterious brain as a whole!

First off, I would NOT recommend reading this book before bed! The content of its pages will either be too unsettling to permit sleep, or it will scare you into sleeping after reading only a few pages. Did you know that every day you are not getting the full 8 hours of sleep you are becoming stupider, unhappier, more likely to get cancer, more likely to get Alzheimers, and to die in a car crash? Even if you feel like you got enough sleep, just getting 7 of the recommended 8 hours is extremely detrimental. And sleep doesn’t accumulate. Getting 7 hours one night and then 9 the next doesn’t actually reduce the damage from only getting 7 hours. This most certainly came as a shock to me.

“If you’re sleeping for less than seven hours a night you’re doing yourself a disservice as grave as that of smoking.”

The negative effects of sleep aren’t all that is discussed by Dr. Walker either. I particularly enjoyed reading Part 3 of the book (chapters 9-11) on dreams. At the start of this section he brings to light just how crazy dreaming is. We become “flagrantly psychotic” as he described it, and it’s true! We accept hallucination, delusion, disorientation, and amnesia as just a normal, daily, sleep function. And this would all be fine if we knew why all that happens… but we don’t. Could dreams possibly be Nature’s biggest mess-up? 

Maybe, maybe not. But either way Dr. Walker goes in depth on possible theories as to why we dream, how they work, and experiments trying to answer this exact question. He also of course, discusses dream control and lucid dreaming, both of which were incredibly fascinating. 

This book provided a lot of information, and I am very glad I was able to learn so much, if anything to realize just how important a healthy sleep schedule is (It can be easy to forget between school, homework, sports, family, friends, clubs, volunteering, etc). But it’s not just about what I learned. In fact, for every piece of information provided in Dr. Walker’s book, I had twice as many questions! So don’t let the title fool you, Why We Sleep is not really going to tell you why we sleep, just a ton of hypotheses and observations leaving you wondering how on earth our brain ever evolved to do what it does EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT! It was absolutely fascinating, and I cannot recommend it enough! Even to those who don’t normally like nonfiction, Dr. Walker’s style of writing is accessible and entertaining for anyone.

Some interesting quotes:

  • “The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”
  • “The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. The leading causes of disease and death in developed nations—diseases that are crippling health-care systems, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and cancer—all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep.” 
  • “It is disquieting to learn that vehicular accidents caused by drowsy driving exceed those caused by alcohol and drugs combined.” 
  • “They discovered that naps as short as twenty-six minutes in length still offered a 34 percent improvement in task performance and more than a 50 percent increase in overall alertness.”