I am passionate about sleep. Sleep is, from far, the most important part of your day, the cheapest way to be healthy and feel sharp. You can read a previous blog post about what sleep is all about. So it is no surprise I also read books about the topic.

“Good sleep is vital for good physical, mental and emotional well‐being.Good sleep plays a role in every part of our lives, from learning a concerto to chopping a cucumber, from getting on well with our partner to flying an aircraft.”

I just read this one from Dr Neil Stanley – How to Sleep Well: The Science of Sleeping Smarter, Living Better and Being Productive . While I must say some of it was slightly disappointing, I did learn a few interesting fact and I enjoyed the reading (easy read). It is a pity we have to wait page 36 though to finally get to the important point.

The author

Dr Neil Stanley is reputable. He is obviously very passionate about sleep, and has been in the field for 36 years, working in sleep laboratory environments. He is not medically qualified but has done research his entire life on sleep.

The Good

He covers a really wide range of topics, from some basics on sleep to reviewing myths, covering areas such as night shift workers, tips on sleeping in hotels, impact of sleep on health, napping, children, relationships and finally reviewing the various sleeping disorders. Although I believe I know a lot about sleep, I learned something.

“Good sleep is the very foundation of good health and underpins both a healthy diet and effective exercise.”

He also tries to take a less alarmist approach, which I like (he refers to a lot of catastrophic claims), so his goal is to give you information and facts, without scaring you if you did not sleep 8h last night!

“Poor sleep may be linked with various diseases. However, these are associations not evidence of causation.”

“We are all different, this means we need different mattress, different length of sleep and different temperature in the room”. 

If you want to get a good general understanding of sleep, this is a good book, as it covers all the basics. 

The Bad

The tone is a bit annoying. The author is passionate but obviously frustrated (especially about other sleep expert claims). To make his points, he takes a “scientific” angle, with facts and research, but in most cases does not reference to the actual research, which I would have loved to be able to access easily. Also, I would expect some more openness on topics like wearables. While his claim that they are not accurate is partly true, they do improve every day and provide a very strong base to monitor.

The myths

Myths around sleep are those statement we have all heard once and assume are true, but never really heard much about the actual facts behind it.

We all need 8h sleep. Your personal sleep need is essentially the amount of sleep that allows you to feel awake, alert, and refreshed during the following day.  Now, although I agree we are all different and I know of people who never slept as much and lived long and health (my uncle and grandfather for instance), I also believe the general recommendation of 7h +suits most people. In my knowledge, people who can function with only 5h sleep are exceptions.

The 1h before midnight – Ever heard that the hours before midnight count double? It is really only linked to the fact that the early hours of sleep is where you get most of your deep sleep.  Really what is important here is the regularity of your sleep, rather than when you go to sleep.  

The concept of the owl or the lark. His take is that we are genetically predisposed to be early riser or late “owler”. Not sure I buy into that but this is the first time I hear it, I was curious. How to determine whether you are a lark or an owl? Do you find yourself wanting to go to sleep relatively early and have no problem getting up early, and eager to start the day? If the answer is ‘yes’, you’re probably a lark. If you answered ‘no’ then you may be an owl. Owls want to go to bed late and find it difficult to get up and out of bed first thing in the morning. 

Cheese & Dream : There is a commonly held belief that eating cheese causes dreams, but the simple fact is that there is nothing in cheese that could specifically cause dreams/nightmares that is not also found in numerous other foods such as turkey, milk, eggs, nuts, chicken, fish, soy, and tofu. While I agree there is probably no scientific proof, I can also state that when ever I have fondue for instance ( a delicious savoyard dish of melted cheese), I don’t sleep well-) Now it is probably because I need to digest all that cheese!

Other interesting facts

  • The mattress is the most important part of your sleep, we should all invest in it and think about it as a long term investment.
  • Couples should sleep in different beds. This is not widely accepted by our society and our ideal of marriage, but when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.
  • How much alcohol disturb sleep? This is a funny one. Alcohol can help you fall asleep. The problem is that it also makes you dehydrated and so disturb your sleep later on. You always read about not having alcohol before bed. It really depends on the individual, and how much alcohol are we talking about.
  • The author touches on some funny facts, such as why men fall asleep after sex, or demystify the fact that Sexual dreams in fact only occur about 10% of the time although erections occur in approximately 80% of dreams.
  • 43% of business leaders report that they don’t sleep enough… should we be preoccupied?
  • Insomnia alone has an estimated societal cost of 63B$ a year in the US, or 2000$ per employee.
  • More sleep improves athletic performances because during SWS growth hormone is released which stimulates muscle growth and repair, bone building and fat burning,

Study showed that those athletes sleeping less than eight hours a night were at a 70% greater risk of injury than those who slept more than eight hours

  • Lack of sleep makes you want to eat more, and more carbs:
    • Poor sleep has been shown to cause 24% higher hunger ratings; a 23% increase in overall appetite but a 33% increase desire for high fat, high carbohydrate foods.”
    • Studies show that restricted sleep leads to an increase in appetite, fat production and weight gain. This is because lack of sleep results in a significant disturbance in certain hormones that control appetite, particularly ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, fat production, and body growth, leading to increased food intake and body weight, while Leptin helps to regulate food intake and signals to the body when it has had enough food.”
  • Why are we not sleeping? Top 3 of the 6 “sleep thieves”?
    • Bed partner
    • Children
    • Worry/Stress

Conclusion

‘Those who think most, who do most brain work, require most sleep’ 

Dr Wills, 1864

Is our sleep disturbed or is it just that we need more and better sleep today? 

The author ultimately brings a very interesting take on sleep. He rejects the allegations that we sleep less than before and that this is one of the reasons we see more illness. For him, the overload of information we deal with today means that we need our brain much more than in the past, and because of that, our need for sleep and recovery is greater … but we are not getting it:

 ‘Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation up until 2003.’

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, speaking in 2010

It was estimated that in 2006 alone the amount of ‘information’ created was three million times the amount of information contained in all the books ever written. Because of this increasing information load, that has to be processed during sleep, he argues that our ‘need’ for good sleep is greater than it has ever been. Much of the stress and anxiety that we experience in the modern world is a result of our inability to process all of this information adequately because we are not sleeping as well as we could.