Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker, PhD

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

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  • Rating: 5 out of 5
  • Genre: Non-Fiction
  • Subject: Sleep, health, psychology, habits

The Book

Why We Sleep is a summation of Dr. Walker’s life work as Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab. The key takeaway is the fact that beyond food, clothing, and shelter, a human being needs sleep in order to survive and thrive. Sleep is the most overlooked, stepchild of our basic needs in modern life.

In a step by step, scientific method,  the book first helps us understand this marvel that we call sleep. What the different stages of sleep are and how our mental and physical states are in each stage of sleep. It is nothing short of magical, this journey we embark on each night as seen through the eyes of Dr. Walker.

Having taught us about sleep, Dr. Walker then moves on to explain the epidemic of sleep deprivity that is rampant in our times. He expounds on this modern-day epidemic that is plaguing our lives and threatening the future of our children.  He explains in detail and referencing several scientific studies – his own and those of others, the impact of sleep deprivity on our physical health, metabolism, appetite, mental clarity, and more. He also references how sleep depravity can increase our risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and other life-threatening diseases. It also speaks to the mental clarity and general emotional state of a sleep-deprived mind.

The section that talks about seniors and the fact that they still need adequate sleep even though their systems are unable to make that happen each night was eye-opening. It is not that seniors don’t need sleep, they do but they somehow have lost the ability to sleep as much as their younger counterparts. We need to help avert sleep deprivation in seniors as much as possible for their future good health.

“the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. The leading causes of disease and death in developed nations—diseases that are crippling health-care systems, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and cancer—all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep.”
― Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

The discussion on dreams was insightful as was the discussion on lucid dreaming. The Freudian take on dream interpretation was refuted.

“Practice does not make perfect. It is practice, followed by a night of sleep, that leads to perfection.”
― Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

There are several actionable suggestions to help you improve the quality of your sleep. We will see there are many factors that impact our sleep such as light, temperature, caffeine intake, exercise, and mealtimes. This means we have that many levers that can be adjusted to improve the length and quality of our sleep. This is indeed empowering, especially since Dr. Walker does not recommend the use of sleep medication because they don’t accomplish what natural sleep can.

“Caffeine has an average half-life of five to seven hours. Let’s say that you have a cup of coffee after your evening dinner, around 7:30 p.m. This means that by 1:30 a.m., 50 percent of that caffeine may still be active and circulating throughout your brain tissue. In other words, by 1:30 a.m., you’re only halfway to completing the job of cleansing your brain of the caffeine you drank after dinner.”
― Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

What I learned

This is one of the best books I have recently read. There is so much insight and so many actionable suggestions, I would call it a  must-read.

We need to stop bragging about sacrificing sleep or pulling all-nighters to get ahead at work or at school. When we compromise with the quality and quantity of our sleep, we short change ourselves and also our employers and teachers. The effect of giving up sleep for work or school is counterproductive and serves no one. There is lost productivity, lower mental clarify, poorer decision making, and more that will follow sleep deprivation, even if short. Sleep, then, is your duty not just to yourself but to all on this planet. So treat it with care, attention, and cherish the deep respite you are blessed with.

“Inadequate sleep—even moderate reductions for just one week—disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic.”
― Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams


Despite all the science behind it, this book is approachable to the common man, as it should so that everyone can learn and benefit from it.  Therefore the narrative style of this book is apt.

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