Book Review: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

By Prof. Kylie O’Brien PhD (Adjunct Professor Torrens University) Director of Research and Education Releaf Group Ltd

If you want to read one book to learn about why we sleep, this one is it. Matthew Walker’s evidence-based book is beautifully written, packed with science and explains with clarity why we sleep and dream. The importance of a good night’s sleep on our health, and the detrimental health effects of poor sleep is very well explained and leaves you in no doubt that questioning every patient who walks in your clinic door about their sleep is of critical importance. Early chapters cover the structure of our sleep patterns and the processes that drive sleep: sleep pressure and circadian rhythms. We learn also learn about the purposes of non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) and REM sleep, and the role of sleep in synaptic pruning in developmental stages, and its role in memory formation and learning right across our lifespan. We also learn about how our sleep needs change with age, how our circadian rhythm shifts and why our teenage kids don’t want to go to bed when we want them to (hint: it’s not just them being pains in the you know where).

The fact that we have genetically-determined, different chronotypes challenges the rigidity of school and work-day scheduling and suggests the need for flexibility (urgently). Links between poor sleep and autism spectrum disorder, Alzheimer’s Disease, depression and other health conditions are backed by plenty of scientific studies. Later chapters focus on sleep disorders, including insomnia and narcolepsy and covers why sleeping too much is also not good for your health, factors that stop us sleeping well (modern light, alcohol, thermal environment), and the effects of sleeping pills. It concludes with his vision for sleep in the 21st century, which includes interventions at the level of individual, education/personal, organization, public policy and society. This is an excellent read and one of the best books I have ever read on the topic.