Book: Why We Sleep

As part of v52 of me, I’ve decided to commit to at least eight hours of sleep a night. I’m doing ok, but need to keep working at it.

From my early 20s, until v47, I woke up at 5 am from Monday to Friday. I’d then binge sleep on the weekend, often sleeping 12+ hours on Saturday or Sunday (my record is just under 16 hours of sleep.) When I had a major depressive episode early in v47, I stopped waking up with an alarm clock. For the next six months, I slept over 10 hours a night (often more than 12), every night.

I was extraordinarily sleep deprived. I knew it was bad for me on multiple dimensions, especially my mental health, so since then, I’ve slept until I woke up naturally each morning. Amy and I go to bed early – usually between 9 and 10 pm, so I’m still up between 6 and 7 am on most days.

Several friends, who know I both love to sleep and am intrigued with how sleep works, recommended that I read Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. It was excellent. While my self-assessment of my sleep habits are very positive, I learned a few things. More importantly, I now have a much better understanding of the “Why” surrounding sleep, especially around sleep’s importance to a healthy and long life.

There are a number of things that I’ve done in the past few years that have dramatically improved my sleep. In addition to eliminating alarm clocks from my life, I stopped taking sleep aids (Advil PM, Ambien) except for helping me reset on international travel (and, after reading this book, I’m going to give Melatonin a try for this situation.) I’ve stopped drinking alcohol. I don’t drink any caffeine after noon (and rarely more than one cup of coffee a day.) I take regular afternoon naps – almost every Saturday and Sunday and whenever I’m on vacation. Our bedroom is pitch black and 65 degrees. I started using a Resmed CPAP machine several years ago (I have a mild sleep apnea). I don’t read or watch TV in bed. Finally, a few months before v52, I stopped drinking fluids after 7 pm and have been skipping dinner several nights a week.

While reading this book, I realized how messed up our societal norms are around sleep. Kids needing to get up early in the morning to get to school by 7:30 am is insanity. ADHD drugs, especially in children, is basically doing the exact opposite of what is helpful. Drowsy driving is way more dangerous than drunk driving. Our schools have lots of different kinds of health education (physical, dietary, sex) but virtually nothing on sleep. The 9 to 5 work culture massively disadvantages people we call “night owls.” The macho ideal of a business person who only needs five hours of sleep a night is extremely counterproductive and dangerous, even though many of our visible leaders (business and political) claim they don’t need more than five hours a night.

The author, Matthew Walker, is Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Founder and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science. While the book is thoroughly researched and supported by actual scientific studies that either Walker or his colleagues have done, it’s a very accessible book. I realized, as I was reading through the construction of the 17th experiment he was describing, that I was learning as much about how to do sleep studies as I was learning about the conclusions from the studies.

As a special bonus, the section on Alzheimer’s and cancer was powerful and a profound motivator to anyone who knows someone who has suffered from either of these diseases.

Time for bed.


Also published on Medium.