One of the book’s real strengths is how clearly it elucidates the extent of the damage wrought by our collective ignorance of the importance and complexity of sleep’s role in our lives, and the difficulty encountered by many of us in getting any ... The book bears a sobering and vital message, too, about the centrality of sleep to the proper development of young minds ... Despite the direness of his warning, Walker’s tone is mostly chipper and likable in the standard pop-sci style, and he is excellent at explaining complex neurological phenomena for a general readership. He does occasionally get bogged down in ill-advised wordplay...But I suppose it’s churlish to take issue with the prose of a person who is trying to save you from an existence of exhaustion and misery, terminating in early death – a bit like grumbling about insufficient legroom in a life raft. Because that’s what this book is. It’s probably a little too soon to tell you that Why We Sleep saved my life, but I can tell you that it’s been an eye-opener.
Why We Sleep, by contrast, is a book on a mission. Walker is in love with sleep and wants us to fall in love with sleep, too. And it is urgent for him. He makes the argument, persuasively, that we are in the midst of a 'silent sleep loss epidemic' that poses 'the greatest public health challenge we face in the 21st century' ... As information-dense as Why We Sleep is, Walker is adroit at presenting his findings and their implications in language accessible to the lay reader ... One especially winning attribute of Walker is that he’s not a scold. He frames his suggestions for more healthful sleep habits not as a series of eat-your-Wheaties admonitions, but as wondrous, uplifting improvements in quality of life ... Very occasionally, Walker’s zeal tips into zealotry...But, generally, Why We Sleep mounts a persuasive, exuberant case for addressing our societal sleep deficit and for the virtues of sleep itself. It is recommended night-table reading in the most pragmatic sense.
Why We Sleep has an unemotive title that makes it sound like a neutral exposition of the latest research into sleep and dreams — and it is indeed richly packed with science — but the book is far more than that. Walker has written an angry polemic about what he sees as the blindness of individuals and society as a whole to an unfolding public health disaster ... All this evidence for the harmful effects of inadequate sleep, which Walker outlines in clear and readable terms, is indisputable ... The weak link in his argument concerns how much people actually sleep in the real world, rather than their behaviour in scientific studies ... This is a stimulating and important book which you should read in the knowledge that the author is, as he puts it, 'in love with everything that sleep is and does.'
...[an] accessible but impressively documented book ... Walker looks at the curve of sleep patterns over a lifetime, mapping children’s late-breaking circadian rhythms (children may have an excuse for dragging their feet to school), the maturation of the brain from back to front (your teenager really is functioning with less than a total brain) to dismissing the myth that older adults don’t need more sleep, arguing that factors such as increased medications, social drinking and the need to get up in the dark are disruptive. Lack of sleep is also linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Walker takes on insomnia, narcolepsy, sleeping pills, decoding of dreams (including anecdotes about Keith Richards and Mary Shelley), and comes down hard on the extreme danger of driving on too little sleep—friends don’t let friends drive drowsy.
Walker is a scientist but writes for the layperson, illustrating tricky concepts with easily grasped analogies. Of particular interest to business owners, educators, parents, and government officials, and anyone who has ever suffered from a poor night’s sleep.
Adopting a conversational style that belies his research background, Walker conveys his insights into the process of sleep with enthralling clarity ... The biggest takeaway is not that lack of sleep can literally kill, but that most of us, without being in mortal danger, are still not getting nearly enough. Anyone who reads this book will (though perhaps only after a good night’s sleep) learn a great deal about one of life’s most basic, but also most profound, needs.
Walker counsels against sleeping pills and offers nondrug therapies that he has found to be effective. In the concluding chapter, “A New Vision for Sleep in the 21st Century,” the author outlines his proposals for enhancing sleep quantity and quality: individual use of new technology, sleep education in schools, sleep reform in the workplace, public campaigns to heighten awareness of the hazards of drowsy driving, and, more elusive, societal change in sleep awareness. Readers, he cordially advises, may read the parts in any order they prefer and close their eyes and take a nap if they feel like it. Though readers seeking dream interpretation will be disappointed, Walker provides a well-organized, highly accessible, up-to-date report on sleep and its crucial role in a healthy life.