I got a chance to borrow Why we sleep from the library last week. There were multiple recommendations from others on a Telegram group I am a part of.
I would give this book a 4.5/5. Terrifically researched, well written and actionable. It does go into a lot of theory, so if you are the person looking for quick advice on how to sleep better, skip to the end of the book.
The twelve tips for better sleep he recommends are:
Twelve Tips for Healthy Sleep
- Stick to a sleep schedule
- Exercise is great, but not too late in the day. Try to exercise at least thirty minutes on most days but not later than two to three hours before your bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
- Avoid large meals and beverages late at night.
- If possible, avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep.
- Don’t take naps after 3 p.m.
- Relax before bed. Don’t overschedule your day so that no time is left for unwinding. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, should be part of your bedtime ritual.
- Take a hot bath before bed.
- Dark bedroom, cool bedroom, gadget-free bedroom.
- Have the right sunlight exposure. Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least thirty minutes each day. If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning.
- Don’t lie in bed awake.
The book itself is divided into 16 chapters focusing on defining sleep, naps, how should we sleep, why sleep is important, dreams and their significance, and finally the benefits of sleep.
Here are my top 10 questions and answers:
Why is sleep important?
Sleep is a memory aid, it helps to cement memories and prevent forgetting. It helps your brain as much as your body. It helps motor-skill enhancement and helps with physical recovery – muscle repair and cellular energy.
How much sleep is required?
The book suggests most adults need to sleep in a biphasic pattern (having two phases). One in the night for 6-8 hours and another nap in the afternoon for 30-60 minutes. Younger teenagers might need more sleep in the night.
How are some people able to get away with little (<6 hours) of sleep?
While it does not address this question, there has a gene that has been identified in people who can sleep less. The book says it is rare that people can function with less sleep.
True low-sleepers (chronically < 6 hours of sleep/night without impairment of function) are incredibly rare, less than 1% of the population. Everyone else is disguising their sleep deprivation with caffeine and sleeping pills.
When should I sleep?
Having a consistent sleep rhythm is important – sleep at about the same time daily is suggested by the book. The time itself is not given (so if you sleep at 10 pm daily or 1 am that’s your pattern).
Why do we sleep less as we age?
Older adults need as much sleep as younger. It is just that the sleep efficiency drops as you age. As you enter your fourth decade of life, there is a palpable reduction in the electrical quantity and quality of that deep NREM sleep. The second hallmark of altered sleep as we age, and one that older adults are more conscious of, is fragmentation. The older we get, the more frequently we wake up throughout the night.
Do naps help as a substitute?
No matter what you may have heard or read in the popular media, there is no scientific evidence we have suggesting that a drug, a device, or any amount of psychological willpower can replace sleep. Power naps may momentarily increase basic concentration under conditions of sleep deprivation, as can caffeine up to a certain dose. Neither naps nor caffeine can salvage more complex functions of the brain, including learning, memory, emotional stability, complex reasoning, or decision-making.
How and why do we dream?
Dreaming essentially is a time when we all become flagrantly psychotic.
First you started to see things which were not there, so you were hallucinating.
Second, you believe things that couldn’t possibly be true, so you were delusional.
Third, you became confused about time, place, and person, so you’re suffering from disorientation.
Fourth, you had wildly fluctuating emotions like a pendulum, something that we call being affectively labile. And then, how wonderful?
You woke up this morning and you forgot most if not all of that dream experience, so you’re suffering from amnesia.
The second benefit of dream sleep is essentially a form of overnight therapy. It’s during dream sleep where we start to actually take the sting out of difficult, even traumatic, emotional experiences that we’ve been having. And sleep almost divorces that emotional, bitter rind from the memorable experiences that we’ve had during the day. And so that we wake up the next morning feeling better about those experiences. So you can think of dream sleep as emotional first aid and it sort of offers this nocturnal soothing balm that smoothes those painful stinging edges of difficult experiences. So it’s not time that heals all wounds, but it’s time during dream sleep that provides you with emotional convalescence.
Can you control your dreams?
Techniques to control, or at least influence, our dreams have been shown to work in sleep experiments. We can strategize to dream about a particular subject, solve a problem or end a recurring nightmare.
What stops a person from sleeping?
Alcohol and caffeine are the two biggest contributors. Not surprisingly if you have a lot of activity to the brain (iPad, Phone), you might take longer to fall asleep.
Should one take sleep aids? E.g. sleeping pills, a hot shower or a “night cap”?
Hot showers help, but night cap (alcohol) and pills dont much.
Alcohol is a class of drugs that we call, “the sedatives.” And what you’re doing is just knocking your brain out. You’re not putting it into natural sleep.