An explication of sleep that not only reveals its mysteries but sings its praises.
For Martin (The Healing Mind, 1998, etc.), a behavioral biologist, sleep is a form of behavior so familiar to us that we take it for granted, remaining woefully ignorant of its significance in our lives. His mission is to enlighten, to share with nonscientists what science has learned about the phenomenon, and to encourage us to value sleep and revel in its pleasures. Sleep deprivation is a sad fact of too many lives in the industrialized world, he notes, and the consequences can be alarming, especially when the sleep-deprived are making life-and-death decisions in hospitals, vehicles, or the corridors of power. Excerpts from Charles Lindbergh’s account of his solo transatlantic flight show just how dangerous sleepiness can be. Martin frequently turns to literature to illustrate his points. His text is larded with apt quotes and examples from Shakespeare, Pepys, Coleridge, Dickens, and a host of others. After a thorough examination of sleep deprivation and its hazards, he considers and explains the mechanisms of sleep, the various factors that promote or prevent sleep, and the nature of dreams. The latter includes a fascinating discussion of lucid, or self-aware, dreams and of how to foster them. Martin looks at various theories of the biological function of sleep, seeing as plausible the idea that the two different stages of sleep are involved in the storage and consolidation of two different kinds of memory: declarative, or “knowing that,” and procedural, or “knowing how.” Students pulling all-nighters before exams are advised to get a good night’s sleep instead. Sleepwalking, nightmares, insomnia, snoring, apnea, and other nighttime problems also get his attention. An unexpected bonus is a capsule history of beds from the elegant royal ones of King Tutankhamen of the 14th century b.c. to Howard Hughes’s mobile bed, a sleeping machine powered by 30 electric motors and equipped with hot and cold running water.
A choice example of science writing that entertains as it educates.