AP reporter Randall provides a brisk tour of sleep research and what it means for individuals hoping to feel well rested.
The author engaged with sleep research in part because of his sleepwalking. The book is not a seamlessly constructed narrative but rather a loose progression of chapters about different sleep-related issues: the sometimes fatal dangers in various occupations caused by lack of sleep; causes of and partial cures for insomnia; the ugly reality of sleep apnea; why dreams happen and whether they can be interpreted sensibly; what happens when an infant enters a household; the advantages of romantic couples sleeping in separate beds; and much more. Randall explains how the invention of electricity led to countless cases of sleep deprivation; the lack of utter darkness after sunset is often the enemy of sound sleep. Researching the world of sleep is obviously difficult because sleeping subjects selected for studies rarely remember anything concrete. Nonetheless, Randall interviewed sleep researchers and read academic papers to glean what he could from those who devote their careers to the science of sleep. Depending on the quality of their sleep, readers may be alternately saddened or validated by research suggesting that sleeping pills rarely improve the quality of sleep and rarely increase quantity by more than a few minutes. Randall emphasizes the too-often neglected common-sense realization that sleep is no void; rather, it is perhaps one-third of the puzzle to living well. The author also notes that sleep is not an undifferentiated continuum; the most restful sleep arrives in five stages of about 90 minutes each.
A welcome study of an element of life that is often “forgotten, overlooked, and postponed.”