Why you should read Why We Sleep

I recently finished reading Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD, and, while I'm hesitant to use the term "life-changing" if only because I just finished it, it was certainly eye-opening. I'll go so far as to say it's the best non-fiction book I've read this decade. I'll also say that you should immediately buy it and read it. 

I've always prided myself on my ability to operated on minimal sleep when necessary. I remember staying up for 72 hours straight when working and moving to a new home at the same time. I've stayed out til near dawn and then made it to work on time more often than I can remember. 

It turns out that this was a very, very bad idea and I'm pretty mad at myself right now.

I'd always known that sleep was important, but important in a vague sense, without any clear idea of the benefits beyond "not feeling sleepy anymore". That's exactly what this book brings to the table: The benefits of sleep. And whoa, are there a lot of them. So many that Aetna pays it's employees bonuses to get enough sleep. An insurance company thinks it's important enough that they will save money by doing this. Let that one settle for a bit.

The bottom line is that you can't really be considered healthy if you aren't getting enough sleep. Your immune system is harmed, you're more susceptible to cancer (!), you don't work as well, either in terms of creativity or quantity, you're unsafe behind the wheel, you lose your memories, you can't control your emotions, and....well, it's an awfully long list. 

The most heartbreaking parts are the sections on the effect of sleep loss on development, both pre- and post-natal and through the teenage years. And, unfortunately, you never catch up on sleep. Miss sleep and the you never get back what you've lost.

This is an informative book rather than one of "hard" science. It's accessible, and, if it gets a little repetitive with the litany against the dangers of sleep loss, it's well-written and never gets dull.  There's not very much in the way of math and the charts are pretty simple, so I didn't get lost the way I do reading, say, Hawking.

You may already be familiar with all of the information contained in Why We Sleep. I wasn't, and I bet some of you aren't either. I strongly commend this book. It has the potential to make your life better in concrete ways, and how many books can you say that about?

-RK