What’s it all about?:
What makes us cross the line from waking to slumber? According to Harvard scientists it’s our ‘sleep switch’ – a cluster of neurons in the hypothalamus. For the ancient Greeks it was the god Hypnos, caressing you with his wings. For the Blackfeet Indians, a butterfly. And in European children’s tales, the Sandman, sprinkling you with dust.
Why do we sleep? What happens in our brains when we sleep? Why are sleep patterns in modern Western industrialised countries so unhealthy? Is the boundary between sleep and wakefulness as clear cut as we might have supposed? How meaningful are dreams? Kat Duff brings insights from her own life, from the latest in sleep science, the paintings of Salvidor Dali, the musings of Michel de Montaigne, and wisdom and rituals from around the world and the past to paint a fascinating picture of a world that is both the most intimate and the most secret to us: sleep.
What did I think?:
From time to time I do enjoy a good non-fiction read, especially in the field of popular science as it relates to what I do for a living. When I saw this book in my local bookshop, I couldn’t resist. Neuroscience is probably one of my favourite areas so I find anything that involves how our brain works fascinating and irresistible. I was pleased to see that the author covers a wide range of topics related to sleep, including dreams and their possible interpretations, sleep deprivation, sleep paralysis, sleep walking and most interestingly for me, how other cultures view sleep both historically and currently.
I always hope to come out of a book like this with lots of lovely new information to store away and remember at some point in the future (usually inane facts to bore my friends and family with!). For example, the author recounts a story of a sleep-walking woman in Denver who got in her car, drove down the road, caused an accident, urinated in the middle of an intersection and became violent with police – all while still asleep! We also learn about whales and dolphins who always sleep with one hemisphere of their brain awake as they need to be able to breathe. Therefore, they float on the surface of the water while one side sleeps then change direction to give the other side a little rest. It was while reading passages like these that I enjoyed the book most.
Perhaps it’s a personal preference but the author seemed to put more of her own anecdotes in compared to good, solid, scientific fact. While it was interesting to read her theories and opinions at times I wished for a slightly more analytical look at such a fascinating topic. She writes in a beautiful way although some people might consider her language a bit too “flowery,” for a non-fiction book. Personally, I found her prose to be something a bit different and it did bring a certain flair to sections which may otherwise seem a bit dry. It looked at sleep from a variety of different angles i.e. psychology, philosophy, mythology which was interesting but sometimes I found things to be a little irrelevant. I don’t think I’ve read a book which solely focuses on sleep before so I don’t really have anything to compare it to but I think to anyone who is interested in the subject it’s a decent enough read and at the end, I did feel like I had learned a few things.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):