Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Overview: I am not the best reviewer of books, but I know when I find one that I think others should read. In this post, I talk about Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker and why I think it is a relevant read for students. Reading time ~ 4.3 minutes (the post, not the book itself).

I just finished reading (actually listening) to Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.

It is accessible via the public library system as an e-book and audiobook.

I went into reading this book already firmly convinced of the value of sleep, having enjoyed and taken instruction from neuroscientist Andrew Huberman on improving sleep. Interestingly, Huberman would go on to interview Matthew Walker in a later episode. I haven’t listened to that episode yet, but it is on my list.

The critical piece of the puzzle that helped me with my sleep was early morning light exposure. I now walk each morning, listening to podcasts to mix exercise, learning and light exposure.

The piece of the puzzle that convinced me was learning the biology of how light signals to the eyes are critical to setting our body’s circadian rhythm. I can now fall asleep and reliably wake up each morning (around 6) with no alarms or cajoling required.

If this book doesn’t convince you to invest some time and effort in establishing regular sleep patterns, then I am not sure what will.

Walker discusses the benefits of sleep (learning, mood, energy, hormones, disease prevention), the actionable strategies to improve sleep, and the role that things like coffee/caffeine, melatonin, sleeping tablets and alcohol play in affecting our sleep.

You’ll discover how much sleep you require, what the impacts of not getting that sleep are, and what benefits you stand to gain from improving quantity and quality of sleep. Walker discusses the main types of sleep disorders and what the current evidence-based approaches to treating those disorders are (shout out to iCBT for insomnia). Along the way you’ll get a pretty detailed overview of the biology of sleep and learn about the different stages of sleep (e.g. deep sleep, REM sleep) and why those stages exist: spoiler – each provides unique benefits in terms of learning, memory, creativity etc.

You’ll hear about the crazy ways modern culture flirts with danger in denying people high quality sleep (e.g. medical interns working long hours, impact of sleep deprivation on driving ability, early start school times). You’ll see how technology both contributes to the problem, but may also end up providing some of the solutions. I liked Walker’s vision of house lighting systems that draw on wearables data to adjust light throughout the day to maximise sleep patterns.

It is a fascinating read – well worth it.

I think it is particularly relevant to students because of a body of research suggesting a high prevalence of poor sleep quality in students and the potential learning and performance benefits students stand to gain from improving their sleep.

I think a flow on benefit of people learning more about sleep will be increased pressure on organisations to develop sleep friendly policies and practices. Much of the modern world seems set up in a way that challenges our capacity to achieve high quality sleep and systemic change might be required in order to support people to develop better sleep practices.

Curious? – grab the book or listen to the author speak.

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One thought on “Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

  1. Great post Gareth and equally great review of this book. Very timely for me as getting the right quantity and quality of sleep is something I struggle with.

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