EACR Members’ Science Book Club: Reviews of ‘Why We Sleep’

“Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.” (Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams)

The EACR Members’ Science Book Club recently read the book “Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams” by Matthew Walker. 

We discussed the book in an informal Zoom meeting, and most agreed that was a thought provoking read. It was generally considered to be both intriguing and scientifically robust, with information highlighting the biological importance of sleep and the effects of the lack of it, alongside selected scientific evidence to support the author’s opinions. 

Below you can read reviews from five members of the EACR Science Book Club who read the book. Perhaps it will help you decide whether to read the book yourself!

1Özlem Aybüke Işık (Bilkent University, Turkey)

“I recommend it to all inquisitive minds… this book will challenge your perspective on sleep in one way or another.”

Although many of us spend one-third of our lifespan in sleep, we know very little about the inner workings of this vital biological process. It is still a very active area of research, and it seems that there is still a lot to discover. In his book ‘Why we sleep’ Matthew Walker introduces us to the hidden world of sleep and dreams.

While brilliantly summarizing the recent scientific studies on sleep, the author brings the importance of sleep to the attention of the reader. This book explains the dramatic changes in your body and mind when you are sleep deprived. Moreover, after reading ‘Why we sleep’, you will better understand why some people are considered more of a ‘morning lark’ and the others ‘night owls’ and how potent psychoactive caffeine keeps us awake all night by competing with sleep pressure.

Furthermore, you will gain insight into how sleep states differ and are segmented, how the sleep state periods alter during human development and why we dream. These are only a few thought-provoking topics of many that are touched all along ‘Why we sleep’.

I recommend it to all inquisitive minds and claim that this book will challenge your perspective on sleep in one way or another. 

2Laura Escudero (VHIO, Spain)

I highly recommend reading “Why We Sleep – The New Science of Sleep and Dreams” by Matthew Walker. It helps the reader understand the biological importance of sleep and how sentences like “Sleep when you are dead” couldn’t be more wrong.

Understanding your sleep chronotype and giving yourself the necessary hours of sleep can be the natural key to becoming more productive, improving memory, and helping your body fight disease. How incredible is that? By highlighting distinct research studies, the author explains the importance of sleep: from fatal risks related with sleep deprivation in disease and accidents, to the creativity and problem-solving benefits of dream sleep.

Once you read it you will realise that some changes would really help improve society and healthcare. Would you like to find out? 

3Gladys Punzalan-Brady (University of Manchester, UK)

“The investigations seem to be extensive, but not exhaustive.”

This interesting set of studies validates the importance of sleep, which to the common man is an obvious need.  But the book may also convince those who find sleep a ‘luxury’, or a wasteful third of a day, to think otherwise.  In fact, the author poses the question of whether there is any system or organ not yet adversely affected by lack of sleep. 

Scans of brain regions were included to locate where information packets are being recalled from at different times, leading to a physio-anatomical treatment of chronotypes.  This part of the book offers a chance for self-knowledge and more practical applications. These findings may guide individuals and workplace managers, science labs included as well as trades that carry out highly focused decision-making, some of them vital.  Night shifts and work hours have been shown to impact on productivity, likewise, work dynamics and relationships.  Big companies have already considered individual circadian rhythms and chronotypes in their approaches.  

 The book can alert readers on the need to set wellness goals backed up by the science of sleep. The investigations seem to be extensive, but not exhaustive.  Some subtopics of interest contained or mentioned in the book include phases of sleep and effects on childhood development, demonstration of individual internal clocks independent of environment, and the elusive gene/s that actually regulate sleep. 

4Anurag Srivastava (University of Turin, Italy)

“It should not be considered a peer-reviewed journal article”

Matthew Walker has written a provocative book explaining the importance of sleep and how it can improve a better as well as a healthy lifestyle. The author has busted many myths surrounding sleeping. The book also shows how sleeping is vital for enhancing learning. The author highlights the importance of sleep throughout life, from fetus to adolescence and aging people. There are many examples that force you to improve your sleep habits. The book classifies people based on the sleep cycle and how society has never been fair to the night owl. 

One needs to be cautious while following all the book’s advice. I researched some outrageous claims in chapter 8; he claims that “daylight saving comes with freighting spike in heart attacks the following day.” The scientific literature doesn’t support this argument entirely, and studies have either found no significant increase in heart attacks or a slight increase in the cases. Even though the book says it’s scientifically accurate, independent researchers have also detailed many lapses (examples: link, link, link, link). 

Overall, the book is an excellent popular science book that highlights sleep’s importance. It should not be considered a peer-reviewed journal article, and the facts stated as gospel truth. Being in science, we must always do our research before believing. 

5Frederike Dijk (Amsterdam UMC, Netherlands)

“I had no idea that so much research had been performed on sleep”

The title intrigued me, but the content even more so. The book is very information-dense, but never bores. I had no idea that so much research had been performed on sleep; literally every aspect has been investigated in quite some detail. Specifically, the part on dreaming fascinated me, including the fact that dreaming actually has a purpose, and how it achieves that. 

In quite a few conversations, I caught myself citing from the book, trying to also convince others to appreciate the importance of sleep. Living according to the rules suggested by Matthew Walker remains, however, quite a challenge, but at least now I make an effort to sleep more and feel good about that. 

About the EACR Members’ Science Book Club

Laura Escudero

Every few months, the Book Club discusses a different book in a relaxed social environment. Members get to vote on which book they want to read, and after a period of time of reading, are polled for when to start the discussion. We meet informally on Zoom and encourage discussion online through LinkedIn too for those that can’t attend.

You can visit the dedicated website page for the Book Club. You can request to join straight away via the LinkedIn group page and please do introduce yourself!

A big thanks to EACR member and Ambassador, Laura Escudero, who volunteers her time and energy as our dedicated and tireless Book Club host and facilitator.