Tom MacWright

I read Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker on


Why We Sleep is a pretty good popular science book on a needed topic. Sleep – and the science thereof – is underappreciated, and this book tries to right that issue.

The fundamental explanations of sleep, which are clustered at the start, are really great and were new information to me. His recommendations for improving sleep, which are split between the beginning and end, are also really good. The middle of the book is a bit of a slog: it’s interesting to hear the methodology of one experiment, but dissecting how each observation about sleep is achieved, just doesn’t seem necessary. It seems a little like filler, and for at least a few experiments, the small sample sizes mean that I feel less confident in the findings, not more.

But, in general I think this is a really great book about sleep. I’ve been in or adjacent to the culture of sleeplessness for decades. Especially at work, cutting sleep was seen as a badge of honor. Then when those tired employees and executives made mistakes or behaved badly, their lack of sleep became an excuse, a shield from criticism. It never felt quite right, but I still felt a tinge of shame when I couldn’t sleep four or five hours a night to optimize work.

I don’t think I’ll be able to quit drinking beer or coffee anytime soon. I’m already vegan: there are only so many things you can give up. But this makes me a lot more cautious about when I drink, and how much. And makes me understand how sleep has always affected me, and see my relatively normal sleep needs as normal, rather than an abberation from my otherwise robust work ethic.