Science writer Ackerman (Chance in the House of Fate: A Natural History of Heredity, 2001, etc.) tracks the daily grind from first awakening to falling asleep: a clever way to teach human physiology.
The author begins by noting that the first hour after waking is not our best. “The brain doesn’t go from 0 to 60 in seven seconds,” declares one of the many experts quoted here. For those hard-to-wake-up folks, the author mentions a fiendish MIT invention: a fuzzy alarm clock that rolls off the bedside table and hides so that the sleeper must get up to search. Such asides enliven the text, as do such personal details as a nightmare Ackerman had and the time she and her daughter encountered an escaped bull. Her narrative takes your basic white-collar worker to the office, sees him/her making a stressful report, then going to lunch, experiencing the afternoon trough (when we all would do well to take a nap) and on to evening. We learn that the cocktail hour is our peak time for alcohol tolerance; we metabolize it better then. Then comes dinner and on to bed for sex, sleep and dreams. In each of these episodes, Ackerman explains what we know and don’t know. Nobody understands fatigue, for example. On the other hand, a lot seems to have been learned about falling madly in love vs. experiencing a long-term loving relationship. Much is also known about the multiple clocks in our cells and the master clock in the brain that determines the circadian ebb and flow of hormones and chemicals that control temperature, heart rate, etc. We ignore these rhythms at our peril, Ackerman notes, decrying the havoc wrought by shift work, medical residents’ schedules, jet lag and other sleep disruptions. Most of us need seven to eight hours of sleep, she warns, rather than the typical six or seven.
An insightful text celebrating just how clever is the machine we call the human body.