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Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep
David K. Randall
read on August 1, 2013

Light lifting. This was like a Malcolm Gladwell book on sleep - but not as well written. Not to say it was bad - I certainly enjoyed it - but this was more like 10 sequential magazine articles than it was a book. It just barely skims the surface of many topics, hits the talking points, and moves on. I'd really like something a lot deeper, but can't complain too much about this offering. I don't think there was anything here I hadn't seen before - but worth calling out:

  • No one really knows why we need sleep, but it seems to be particularly related to relaxing the prefrontal cortex.
  • Discussed the idea (which came up in How The Mind Works) about the purpose of dreams being to prepare our brains for bad/novel scenarios. Dreams are essentially 'practice' mode for our brains, so that when we experience novel situations in life we'll be better prepared.
  • There seems to be evidence that without artificial light, it seems like humans naturally sleep twice a day: 1st sleep, then an hour or so awake, and then 2nd sleep. There's evidence that most people actually did this regularly until just a few hundred years ago.
  • Teenagers circadian rhythms make them want to sleep from 12-8, whereas older folks (50+) tend to want to sleep from 9-4. Theory is this was evolutionarily advantageous so that families/groups of humans would always have someone "on shift" looking out for danger. I love this. What an elegant solution to a legitimate, if totally obsolete, problem.

Author Bio:

David K. Randall is a senior reporter at Reuters and has also written for Forbes, the New York Times, and New York magazine. He is an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.