I’ve had a book on the bedside table for a year or so, slowly reading it chapter by chapter. I started and finished many other books in the meantime, but this one was not to be hurried through.
The book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, written by Matthew Walker, Ph.D., is a book that initiated a change in my sleep habits long before I finished reading it.
The author has devoted his career to the study of sleep and is director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science. He has published numerous sleep studies over his career.
One chapter in, I was convinced that my sleep habits were detrimental to my overall health and longevity. As I continued reading, I soon realized that a full night’s sleep on a regular basis is essential to my long-term health.
You don’t need to read the book in entirety to get a short-cut benefit of Walker’s wisdom. The last several chapters of the book outline what to do to improve your quality and quantity of sleep. These would include examining the use of electronics, control of the amount of light, and room temperature. He has also included an appendix from NIH, Twelve Tips for Healthy Sleep.
However, if you take that shortcut and avoid delving into the detail and the myriad of possible ramifications that sleep deprivation can bring about, you would miss a deeper understanding of the role sleep plays in our wellbeing as well as the occasional subtle humor the author expresses in his text.
The book was of interest to me in two ways. First, and most importantly, how my sleep (or lack of it) has an impact on my health. The second is an interest and understanding of the dream aspect of our sleep.
Over the years, I have given short shrift to sleep, caving in to study, career and family demands. Goodness knows how much damage I have done to my overall health, not to mention my longevity, but it’s not too late for me to make amends.
Since I began reading Why We Sleep, I have made a point of working toward eight hours of sleep each night. I am seldom completely successful as I am conditioned over time to wake after somewhere between five and six hours of sleep. But I’m improving.
There are reasons for me – and maybe for you – to work toward that improvement, especially for those of us in our senior years. Some areas addressed by the author were lightning rods for me. Walker discussed the impact of the loss of sleep on the cardiovascular system, the likelihood of developing diabetes, a greater likelihood of accidents, the impact on the immune system, and potential development of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Dreams occur primarily during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep. Walker explores various research projects involving the nature of dreams and why we dream. After discussing those projects, he opines that the function of dreams is to nurse our feelings, our emotional and mental health.
He finds the second function is to problem-solve and to create. So, while we are asleep, our dreams are dealing with issues from our waking hours and maybe creating resolutions. Walker theorizes that dreams are a form of overnight therapy. He also finds in reviewing research that the ability to remember is solidified during sleep and our dreams are a part of that process.
Walker also discusses the ability of some people to have lucid dreams, the ability to know that you are dreaming and perhaps able to consciously control the dream.
The book also discusses somnambulism, disorders such as sleepwalking that vary from harmless to problematic and all are interesting. Various types of insomnia, a condition many have experienced at one time or another, is discussed in detail.
Sleep is a powerful tool. So, why was I giving this gift away? Concentrating on exercise has always been a part of my life, and I pay some attention to nutrition. But I may have been undermining my other healthy options maintained over the years by cutting myself short with less hours of sleep. But no more. If I want to live a long, healthy life, sleep will have to be a significant part of it. And moving forward, it will be.
Do you consider sleep as a cornerstone of healthy living? Has your attitude toward sleep changed since turning 60 – or 70?
Tags How to Sleep Better