Sleep: A Very Short Introduction Illustrated Edition
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About the Author
Steven W. Lockley is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard University. Russell G. Foster is the Head of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology at the John Radcliffe Hospital, University of Oxford.
- Item Weight : 5.2 ounces
- Paperback : 146 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780199587858
- ISBN-13 : 978-0199587858
- Product Dimensions : 6.7 x 4.3 x 0.5 inches
- Publisher : Oxford University Press; Illustrated Edition (March 24, 2012)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 019958785X
- Best Sellers Rank: #622,066 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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This particular book is about sleep. While, on average, sleep takes up one-third of a person’s life, it’s a subject that is often taken for granted. Like water, one doesn’t really think about it until one isn’t getting enough. However, as the book discusses in detail, all sorts of problems are associated with sleep deprivation, insomnia, and parasomnias (i.e. sleep events like sleepwalking, night terrors, nightmares, bedwetting, sleep-eating, and groaning.)
The book is written in nine chapters covering: the history of sleep, sleep generation and regulation, a brain on sleep, reasons we sleep, variation in sleep throughout one’s life-cycle, the nature of poor sleep, the connection between sleep and health, and the effect of our shift to a round-the-clock society.
There are a number of fascinating questions addressed by this book including:
-What does sleep do for us?
-Have people always tended to sleep eight hours per night?
-Why are some people morning people and others night owls?
-Why does one feel drowsy after lunch, but not necessarily when it’s time to hit the sack?
-How long can one go without sleep?
-Do all animals sleep?
-How do sleep and hibernation differ?
-Why do teenagers and the elderly have such odd (but different) sleep habits?
-Why do people sleepwalk, sleep-eat, groan in their sleep, or have night terrors?
-What is the effect of long-term insomnia on health?
-What happens to sleep if one has no rising and setting sun cues?
-What is jetlag and how can one fight it?
I learned some interesting facts, such as:
-On average, women report more insomnia, but, paradoxically, tend to sleep better than men.
-Pre-industrial people slept for about 10 hours a night on average, it’s believed.
-Many parasomnias occur mostly during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.
-The government can deprive prisoners of sleep for 7.5 days without it being considered torture (then they have to allow a full 8 hours sleep before another 7.5 day period started.)
-Long-term insomnia has been linked to heart-disease.
-Shift workers have a 50% greater incidence of breast and prostate cancer than day-workers.
-Visiting teams win 46% of the time if they are in their home time zone, 44% if they are traveling ‘with their body clock,’ and only 37% if they are traveling against their body clock.
I found this book interesting and informative. However, there are many books on the subjects of sleep and dreams that are more catered to a popular audience. Such books delve into intriguing cases and don’t dig as deeply into the minutiae of the science of the subject. I’d recommend this book, but not for readers who get bogged down or bored with scientific and technical discussions. If you’re looking for a book that’s loaded with pithy facts and fascinating stories, you can find a book closer to the mark by journalists who focus on science writing and who’ve got more flare for creative writing.
1) The Secret World of Sleep: The Surprising Science of the Mind at Rest by Penelope A. Lewis
2) Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall
3) Sleep: A Very Short Introduction by Steven W. Lockley
4) The Secret Life of Sleep by Kat Duff
I was looking mainly for scientific information, in conjunction, perhaps, with interesting anecdotes. Dreamland by David Randall was the closest to what I thought I was looking for and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in sleep. The Secret World of Sleep by Penelope Lewis and Sleep: A Very Short Introduction by Lockley and Foster were a little more purely scientific. However, among these two I strongly preferred the no-nonsense style of Sleep: A Very Short Introduction. By comparison, The Secret World of Sleep felt like an academic paper that had been hastily modified by a copy-editor to read like a popular science book. The result is not-very-exciting writing that is larded with "accessible" descriptions and analogies. The amygdala is referred to at least a dozen times by the epithet "almond shaped". The first time was fine, the fifth time was patronizing. But I powered through.
I cannot recommend Kat Duff's book, because of passages that give serious credence to the explanation that hypnogogic hallucinations are in fact visitations by evil spirits. See my review there for more details.
The best thing about this book is how succinct it is. I suggest reading it along with (before or after) the David Randall book.
Top reviews from other countries
I learned quite a bit from this book, for example that fishes sleep with one side of the brain at a time, and that we are 20% more likely to have an accident on the Monday morning following the clocks going back and 5% more likely to have a heart attack in the three weeks after that event, than at other times (clocks going forward doesn't matter). Also that is you are a US baseball team, best not to travel across time zones, but if you do have to travel, better to travel West than East.
Overall, however, perhaps I had hoped for a little more enlightenment than the authors provide - and probably a little more enlightenment about sleep than it was appropriate to hope for from such a book.
As frankly stated in the book, many features of sleep and the factors shaping it are not really understood. A definition of sleep fitting comparable phenomena in all forms of life is lacking. And, most important of all, "The reasons why we sleep remain frustratingly unresolved" (p. 40). But some of the essential functions of human sleep are known. These include many biological ones. On the mental level, "In humans, procedurial learning, declarative learning, and even higher-level "insights" - the process of mental restructing in the brain, that leads to a sudden gain of understandilgn or explicit knowledge - have been shown to depend on sleep" (p. 52). Also, "sleep helps our brains find creative solutions" (p.1).
All the more serious are the consequences of sleep deprivation and disturbances, as caused by a variety of pathologies; shift work; disruption of the natural day-night cycle which is hardwired into humans by its evolutionary history, caused by modern 24 hour active, noisy and brightly lightened modern societies; and personal neglect of sleep requirements.
This leads to a very important issue, not discussed in the book, namely the potentially serious consequences of sleep deprivation and disturbances by high level decision makers. The work schedule of political leaders increases the dangers of serious and sometimes catastrophic errors, especially in crisis situations. This is also the case when traveling through time zones, rushing from continent to continent for important meetings.
Matters are made even worse because of unawareness of lack of sleep consequences."While there are individual differences in how sleep deficiency affects alertness and performance, no-one is immune....Unfortunately, our sleepy brain cannot judge our own abilities, and as a result we are sometimes blissfully, and dangerously, unaware of our impaired performance" (p. 91). And, again, "the sleepy brain cannot evaluate itself and often underestimates how sleepy we are" (p. 105).
Fatigue-reducing drugs are only helpful for short periods and then produce aggravated mental capacity degradations. Therefore, essential is strict time management making sure that high level decision makers have enough time and suitable conditions for sleeping about six to seven hours daily, with few exceptions; and that they follow special regimes to reduce jet-lag problems and in crisis situations. But, my studies of quite a number of heads of governments around the world show that when critical issues are faced sleep deprivation is the rule, with more than a few dismal consequences. It would be very interesting to learn if this played a role in "sleepwalking" into the catastrophe of World War One 100 years ago, but in the various books being published on this episode contain no information on the sleep rationing of the critical decision makers, such data being usually unavailable..
I wish the authors had taken up the problem of sleep deprivation by senior decision makers, which can easily cause much more damage than drowsy driving as discussed by them (pp. 103-107), however tragic.
All the more so this book is strongly recommended to all, including top level decision makers. I will include it in the recommended reading list of my next book on required qualities of political leadership.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem