I am obsessed with sleep. I get a good amount – usually eight hours a night – but I don’t always feel well-rested. I also have intense dreams and I remember most, if not all of them. I got a Fitbit in December and while I have been less active during the pandemic, I like using it to track my sleep. Because of this longtime interest in sleep, I decided to listen to the audiobook version of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, written by Matthew Walker and read by Steve West.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. When you click on and/or purchase from some links, I make a portion of the sale. This helps keep Bitch Bookshelf running.

Find out more about how I review books here.

The summary, from Amazon:

The first sleep book by a leading scientific expert – Professor Matthew Walker, director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab – reveals his groundbreaking exploration of sleep, explaining how we can harness its transformative power to change our lives for the better.

Sleep is one of the most important but least understood aspects of our life, wellness, and longevity. Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, or what good it served, or why we suffer such devastating health consequences when we don’t sleep. Compared to the other basic drives in life – eating, drinking, and reproducing – the purpose of sleep remained elusive.

But an explosion of scientific discoveries in the last 20 years has shed new light on this fundamental aspect of our lives. Now, preeminent neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker gives us a new understanding of the vital importance of sleep and dreaming. Among so many other things, within the brain, sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Dreaming mollifies painful memories and creates a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge to inspire creativity.

Walker answers important questions about sleep: How do caffeine and alcohol affect sleep? What really happens during REM sleep? Why do our sleep patterns change across a lifetime? How do common sleep aids affect us, and can they do long-term damage? Charting cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs and synthesizing decades of research and clinical practice, Walker explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood, and energy levels; regulate hormones; prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes; slow the effects of aging; increase longevity; enhance the education and lifespan of our children, and boost the efficiency, success, and productivity of our businesses. Clear-eyed, fascinating, and immensely accessible, Why We Sleep is the crucial account on sleep that will forever change listeners’ minds on the subject.

Buy Why We Sleep on Amazon.

Why We Sleep is a longy but a goody. There’s a lot of information packed into this book. The book is broken down into four main parts: “This thing called sleep” – about sleep patterns, what sleep is, and who sleeps; “Why should you sleep?” – the benefits of sleep, sleep deprivation and the brain, and sleep deprivation and the body; “How and why we dream” – REM, dreaming as therapy, and dream creativity and control; and “From sleeping pills to society transformed” – sleep disorders and death from no sleep, what stops us from sleeping, sleeping pills and therapy, sleep and society, and the future of sleep technology.

There was so much to learn in each of these sections. I make absolutely no promises about limiting my caffeine consumption, napping at different times, or drinking less alcohol, but it was interesting to learn about how these things affect our sleep and then to see how my sleep patterns appeared on my Fitbit when I drank caffeine in the late afternoon, took an early evening nap, or had more than two drinks at night. My thoughts on sleeping pills were solidified and I was surprised to learn more about their health effects. (On the other hand, I wanted to learn more about this. Someone who takes sleeping pills might be more likely to get into a car accident the next day, but so is a sleep deprived person. How do the numbers compare?) I always love learning about dreams so even though I knew most of the information in that part, I enjoyed listening to it nonetheless.

The only qualms I had were in the final pages. Walker talks about the future of technology and sleep. A lot of it I really liked, even when acknowledging that these technological services will be things the public will have to pay for. However, one of his points was way too capitalist for me and portrayed in a positive light when I don’t really think it is. He talks about insurance companies lowering rates for good sleep habits. At face value and for someone like me, this would be great. If you better your sleep, your immunity is better, and your rates go down. But as someone who has worked closely with insurance companies, I saw all of the negative implications. What about insomnia patients? What if I chose not to share my sleep data with the company? What if a customer was going through a period of depression, grief, or illness which impacted their sleep? I could only think of all the ways insurance would continue to nickel and dime their customers. It bothered me that the author viewed privatized insurance in such a positive light and gave no mention to the ways insurance companies could use sleep data to their advantages. Either he has little experience with the realities of health insurance (in the United States, at least) or he’s a raging capitalist.

Steve West’s reading was fantastic. I found his voice to be calming – perfect for the topic. There were a few times I tuned out, but as this is such a long book and I’m a layperson, that’s perfectly understandable. That being said, the language used is something any listener/reader will understand.

Overall, this book was super interesting to me. I enjoyed the narration and am glad I listened to it. I rate it at 4 stars.

If this book is a little lengthy for you, you can always check out this summary title or this summary and discussions title.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and DreamsWhy We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a really interesting listen (as I enjoyed the audiobook version). I learned a lot about sleep, why it’s important, and how to achieve better sleep. (Am I going to cut out the caffeine and booze though? Probably not.) The narrator did an excellent job. I did tune out at times but this is a lengthy one so that’s understandable. I also had some qualms with the discussion of the future of sleep technology. Just casually mentioning how it can be monetized was a little too capitalist for me, and the notion of it impacting insurance rates as a good thing for all involved is downright terrifying IMO. Like cool, another way insurance companies can nickel and dime people. Big oof there. 😬 But it was still a really educational listen and I’ve been bringing it up in conversation a ton.

View all my reviews

Find out more about how I rate books here.

Interested? Buy Why We Sleep.
And don’t forget to add me as a friend on Goodreads!

P.S. I listened to this book on Audible. Try Audible and get two free audiobooks!

Bitmoji Image