Subtitled “The Life Changing Science Of Sleep” (and yes, it is unusual for me to read a book with “science” in the title) Richard Wiseman pulls together all the theories and research on sleep to produce an extremely readable book on a fascinating subject. I chose to read it after having had a few days of my occasional struggles with sleep and I am already doing better.
Basically, we’re not getting enough of it. Sleep, that is. Most of us fall short of the 8 hours required to fully recharge ourselves for the next day and the quality of this sleep has deteriorated rapidly over the last half century due to our lifestyles, stress and our obsession with the blue light of smart-phones, computers and tablets. As a result we are becoming sleep deprived affecting our abilities to function as individuals and at work, causing many road traffic accidents and putting ourselves at risk of obesity, diabetes and cancer all of which Wiseman is prepared to attribute to the wrong type of sleep.
We still feel guilty about sleep, as if it is a weakness. Margaret Thatcher, when Prime Minister, was said to thrive on 3 or 4 hours per night and this was held up as an admirable quality. Running the country is surely more important than sleep. She might actually have done a better job if she’d put in those extra hours. (There’s also significant research to suggest that those who claim to be thriving on a modicum of sleep actually do a lot more of it than they realise).
Wiseman also fascinated me by exploring the other social no-no, the afternoon nap. Take one of these and you’ll likely end up feeling guilty. Wrong! We’re often being told of the virtues of the Mediterranean diet as an explanation for lower instances of heart trouble and stroke in regions which follow this- but what do these nations also support? The siesta. Is this why coronary disease is much lower because of the blood-pressure lowering benefits of a nap? There’s a precise science to getting this right and Wiseman points out how long it should be and when and how to get the most out of it. He’s convinced me, I’m off to buy an eye-shield.
What sleep is for and what it does, how to do it when you are struggling and how to enrich your learning potential whilst asleep; the role of dreams and how to use them for your benefit and avoiding and curing other sleep related problems are all dealt with this in this book in a highly accessible way with the author as friendly tutor guiding us, rather than blinding us, with science. I’m really glad I liked the author’s style as I have another of his books “Quirkology” – a book I bought then wondered why I had done so as it is also not the sort of thing I would normally read and which has been sitting on my shelves for some time.
He also debunks the many myths that have built up with relish. The connection between eating cheese at night leading to bad dreams, for example, was actually a fictional creation by Charles Dickens as Scrooge ate cheese before his visions. Experimentation has proved this has no basis in fact. Yet how many of us still avoid cheese at night because of this?
If, like most of us you don’t give that much thought to the third of the day when you should be in bed and are not using it to maximise your potential for the other two thirds of the day then this book is a real eye-opener, or yes, go on, I’ll say it a real eye-closer!
Night School was published by Macmillan in 2014