Sleep Scientist Matthew Walker says it is time to pay better attention to how well we sleep. I agree.
The Cost of Poor Sleep
A truck driver is gliding down an interstate highway around 1:00 in the morning. His brain feels heavy as it is locked into a battle to stay alert. As he approaches a curve in the road, his eyes close but he doesn’t notice. He is asleep – but only for a moment. In that moment his 80,000lb rig has traveled over 100 feet. As his microsleep ends, he awakens to find himself already crossing the median into oncoming traffic. It is now too late.
One of the most powerful statistics I read in Mathew Walker’s book Why We Sleep is that for every truck driver that dies while driving fatigued, they kill an average of four others. Yet the startling and sad costs of poor sleep to individuals and society was only one part of this incredible book. If you are a human factors geek this book is a masterclass in the current science of sleep in exquisite detail with a large dose of practical advice for how to improve your own health and performance through better sleep.
Casual readers or those not interested in the science behind the stories and recommendations may find the book long and and a bit tedious. It’s readily apparent that Walker, a university professor, has plenty of experience delivering lectures rich in technical and scientific data. For me, however, this is what made the book so useful. As a pilot, a parent, and a devoted geek, the deep explanations brought clarity to the concepts and put substantial weight behind the arguments.
I began the book as what I felt was a fairly sleep-conscious individual with a better-than-average understanding of the mechanics and benefits of sleep. I finished the book miles from where I began with a renewed interest in the utterly fascinating science of sleep and a vastly greater understanding and appreciation of its importance to me, my family, and society at large. If you are open gaining a broad understanding of this complex topic, this book delivers.
Practical Advice for Pilots and Flight Instructors
Pilots will find plenty of practical insights applicable to flying. Flight Instructors and students would benefit from the detailed discussion of sleep’s role in learning and performance. The work of Dr. Mark Rosekind, the aviation fatigue researcher formerly of the NTSB and NASA, brings an additional aviation perspective to sleep and fatigue. The book offers plenty of theory such as a strikingly detailed explanation of sleep’s role in memory and learning. The theory is punctuated with practical pilot-relevant advice on the effects of caffeine, alcohol, sleeping pills, sleep disruption, napping, and various sleeping disorders. Why We Sleep offers pilots a framework to understand how to improve their personal sleep habits for both near-term performance and vast long-term health benefits. It’s difficult to deny the relevance to all of us.