“AMAZING BREAKTHROUGH! Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed and less anxious. Are you interested?”
-Excerpt from Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep
What would you be willing to pay for such a miracle “drug”? If there were a pill that conferred such benefits it would be priceless and impossible to keep in stock. This “revolutionary new treatment” that Matthew Walker, PhD, refers to in his book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, is, unsurprisingly, a good night of sleep.
While we all are aware that getting adequate sleep is beneficial, the claims made in the above paragraph may seem exaggerated and overblown. At least, this would have been my reaction prior to reading the book. However, sleep scientist Dr. Walker makes a very compelling argument for sleep being the foundation upon which nearly all aspects of our well-being rely. Citing numerous sleep studies from the past two decades, he powerfully conveys the enormous impact that sleep has on our overall health, mood, ability to learn, creativity, and ability to work more efficiently and effectively.
In his book, Dr. Walker takes us on a fascinating journey as he explores:
- The science of sleep, including how sleep cycles differ between humans and other animals, as well as how sleep changes across your lifespan
- The innumerable benefits of sleep for both our brain and our body, including how insufficient sleep may lead to illness and even early death
- Why we dream and the impact it may have on our creativity
- Why sleeping pills are not an effective solution to our sleeping epidemic, as well as non-drug therapies that are likely safer and more efficacious
- The impact that insufficient sleep has in education, in medicine and health care, and in business
Two-thirds of adults in developed nations fail to obtain the eight hours of nightly sleep that is recommended by the World Health Organization and the National Sleep Foundation. I imagine that this percentage is even greater among us chronically sleep-deprived healthcare professionals.
If you’ve completed a medical residency, you know first-hand how profoundly sleep deprivation impacts your medical decision making, work efficiency, and concentration. Dr. Walker cites studies looking at the impact of sleep in the workplace, which “demonstrated that shorter sleep amounts predict lower work rate and slow completion speed of basic tasks.” These studies also found that sleep-deprived individuals “generate fewer and less accurate solutions to work-relevant problems they are challenged with.”
I am not a great sleeper. For most of my adult life, I’ve found it difficult to fall asleep at a reasonable hour and have always attributed this to my being born a “night owl.” Working in emergency medicine has allowed me to accommodate my odd sleep schedule, where I can choose to work mostly evening shifts that don’t start until after noon. However, when the inevitable early morning shift/meeting/appointment would arise, I would have to endure the day in a semi-awake state, attempting to force my brain into a morning-person mode with repeated boluses of caffeine.
In the past year I have made efforts to improve my sleep hygiene and improve the quality of my sleep. The things that I have found to be most helpful include sticking to a regular sleep schedule as best I can, reducing or eliminating screen time an hour prior to going to bed, exercising daily, not consuming caffeine after 10am, and keeping the bedroom cool. While I have made progress in this area and have felt the impact in various areas of my life, I still have more work to do. I think we are all aware of the importance of sleep but the information presented in Dr. Walker’s book highlights precisely how significant it is. As a result of reading his book, I’ve redoubled my efforts to prioritize sleep in my life and to do everything in my power to get a good night sleep each and every night.
I hope you find his book as interesting and insightful as I did.
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