Book review: Why We Sleep

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Title: Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams

Author: Matthew Walker (PhD)

Topic: Sleep, Health, Performance, Learning, Memory

Appropriate for: Literally everyone but especiallyParents of athletes, Teachers, Athletes, Coaches, Support Staff

Overall rating: 5/5 – go out and get it now!!!

Overview:

I first heard about this book after listening to the author Matthew Walker being interviewed on the Joe Rogan Podcast. The interview was so interesting and in depth that it prompted me to purchase the book (rather the audiobook – I listened to it on my daily commute, often ironically in the early morning!). The book did not disappoint. It was informative, practical and also hugely shocking. I recommend that everyone should read this book! It really details just how influential sleep is on so many bodily processes, condensing many research studies into digestible information. It also paints a stark picture of just how the societal pressure to reduce sleep is negatively affecting our health.

The author states discusses how sleep is universal in all animals including insects and worms, this alone is a clue that sleep is not a passive, unnecessary process but something that is vital to life. Indeed the author goes on to detail the effects sleep has on:

  • Physical health and disease (such as obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease and general immune health)
  • Mental health (such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder)
  • Emotional control (The battle of the pre-frontal cortex vs the amygdala)
  • Memory and the ability to retain/retrieve information (Alzheimers and Dementia)
  • Motor development (such as the effect sleep has on skill development – important in sport particularly!)

Indeed, the author synthesises hundreds of research studies in humans and animals to bring home the point that adverse sleep has negative consequences on all aspects of life and human performance. One particularly heavy hitting snippet is that a lack of sleep is actually fatal as demonstrated by both studies of sleep deprived rats and anecdotes of insomnia patients. Not to mention that a lack of sleep is a primary cause of road traffic accidents and fatalities!

One particular area worth mentioning is how important sleep is during early development – not just from infant to toddler, but how circadian rhythm actually changes across your lifespan – explaining just why adolescents stay up late and sleep in. Additionally, detailing how detrimental our current societal norms of an early school start on adolescent sleep, mental health and cognitive function. Carry this over into the world of early morning sport practices and it reminds of something I believe I saw Keir Wenham Flatt discuss. Basically (I’m paraphrasing) it was along the lines of, “Don’t tell your athletes how important recovery and sleep are if you schedule 5am practices.” I definitely think he has a point.

This book could not be more important to any population than youth athletes in my opinion based on a number of reasons: the change in circadian rhythm in adolescents, the impact sleep has on physical health (think of the rise of childhood obesity!), mental health and cognitive function, as well as the impact sleep has on reinforcing skill development! I’m constantly trying to reinforce the importance of sleep to my athletes as the best, most effective and most economical recovery modality there is! This book just reinforces that even further!

You can find the book here: Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams

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