Sam Holstein

“Why We Sleep” by Dr. Matthew Walker Changed My Idea of a Healthy Lifestyle

“Why We Sleep” by Dr. Matthew Walker Changed My Idea of a Healthy Lifestyle

We all know we should be getting more (and better) sleep than we are, but we aren’t really sure why. What does sleep do? What does it mean for sleep to be high quality? And for god’s sake, what kind of mattress should I buy?

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Dr. Matthew Walker answers these questions and more. After reading Why We Sleep, you will finally understand why you are so exhausted when you wake up in the morning. Better yet, you will know what changes you need to make so you can wake up happy and energetic every morning, right on time.

A Brief Overview of the Book

Why We Sleep’s premise doesn’t seem particularly exciting. It’s a book about why we sleep — why we evolved to sleep, what biological functions sleep serves for us, and how we can get good sleep at night. But this book is easily in my top five for the year, because author Dr. Matthew Walker makes this topic fascinating.

He does this by explaining why you, personally, need to know this. He teaches scientific lessons in a way that makes it clear to you what the impact is on your health when you stay up a few extra nights in a row. Now that I’ve read Why We Sleep, I’m taking my sleep routine as seriously as I take elective sobriety.

Controversy

In the process of writing this article, when I googled “statistics from why we sleep,” two websites calling out Why We Sleep for peddling poor science popped up in the first few results. The first one is from the blog of Alexey Guzey and the second is from Columbia University’s blog on Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science. Columbia University is a hell of a source, so I chose that one to read more.

Turns out Columbia University had Alexey Guzey on their podcast, and he’s an independent researcher. Guzey found Walker omitting data from a graph in Why We Sleep that created ambiguity in his argument. Walker claimed “Every person almost certainly needs eight or nine hours of sleep,” when the reality is closer to “Most data suggests everyone needs at least eight hours, but there are some studies that suggest some people perform better at five, but sleep scientists expect to find an explanation for this wrinkle sometime soon in the next few years.”

This foible is common amongst influencers — I’ve even done this more than I care to admit, though I like to think I’m past that now — but still, Dr. Walker, come on.

Having actually read Why We Sleep, I’m not sure his misrepresentation matters much. You should assume you need eight hours of sleep unless you implement all of Dr. Walker’s sleep routine suggestions and routinely find yourself waking up only six or seven hours after falling asleep several days in a row. Undisputed studies have shown the vast majority of people who think they only need six hours of sleep are deluding themselves. They report being well-rested, yet show noticeable recall and movement delays compared to people who slept eight hours the previous night.

What This Book Taught Me

It is so easy to get good sleep. Most people already have everything they need to get a good night’s sleep in their homes, and the basics of how to get good sleep are easy to learn. Even on days where your diet is shit and you don’t exercise, you can still easily prioritize restful sleep.

Being well-rested is incredible for your health. Our cultural trope of sleep is that it’s an unfortunate necessity. No one can forget Kevin Spacey saying “I’ve always loathed the necessity of sleep. Like death, it puts even the most powerful men on their backs.” But sleep is the magical key to incredible physical and mental well-being. Sleep is a joy, not a need.

Who I’d Recommend This Book For

People who feel like shit who don’t have a lot of willpower or emotional energy available to reach their goals. Cleaning up your diet and getting regular exercise take at least a moderate application of attention and discipline. Getting good sleep doesn’t. Once you’ve programmed your phones and computers to shut off an hour before bedtime and maybe bought a smart-bulb that will automatically dim, all you have to do is go with it.

I’d also recommend this book to people who are already performing well but are looking for an extra edge. Sleep is so often overlooked in our society. Most people don’t look after their sleep. If you become one of the ones who do, your increased energy levels and quality of work will show.