William Leith

Sweet dreams are made of this

A good sleep not only make us cleverer and more attractive, says Matthew Walker. It wards off strokes, cancer and dementia

I’ve read several books​ ​about​ ​sleep recently,​ ​and​ ​their​ ​authors​ ​all​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​the same​ ​three​ ​things.​ ​The​ ​first​ ​is​ ​that,​ ​in​ ​the modern​ ​world,​ ​it’s​ ​hard​ ​to​ ​get​ ​enough sleep.​ ​The​ ​second​ ​is​ ​that​ ​sleep​ ​is​ ​very important.​ ​Every​ ​night,​ ​we​ ​pass​ ​out.​ ​Every morning,​ ​we​ ​regain​ ​consciousness, half aware​ ​that​ ​time​ ​has​ ​passed.​ ​For​ ​a moment,​ ​we​ ​might​ ​have​ ​the​ ​impression we’ve​ ​just​ ​been​ ​flying​ ​through​ ​the​ ​air,​ ​or that​ ​we’re​ ​about​ ​to​ ​be​ ​executed.​ ​The whole​ ​thing​ ​is​ ​totally​ ​weird.​ ​That’s​ ​the​ ​third thing.

Before​ ​I​ ​get​ ​into​ ​the​ ​weirdness,​ ​I’ll​ ​say something​ ​about​ ​the​ ​importance​ ​of​ ​sleep. Authors​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​think​ ​that​ ​what​ ​they’re writing​ ​about​ ​is​ ​important.​ ​But​ ​sleep authors​ ​are​ ​a​ ​breed​ ​apart.​ ​They’re​ ​like sleep​ ​salesmen.​ ​And​ ​I’ve​ ​never​ ​come across​ ​a​ ​sleep​ ​salesman​ ​quite​ ​as dedicated​ ​as​ ​Matthew​ ​Walker.​ ​An Englishman,​ ​he​ ​is​ ​the​ ​director​ ​of​ ​the sleep​ ​and​ ​neuroimaging​ ​laboratory​ ​at the​ ​University​ ​of​ ​California,​ ​Berkeley.​ ​‘I am​ ​in​ ​love​ ​with​ ​sleep,’​ ​he​ ​tells​ ​us.​ ​‘I​ ​am​ ​in love​ ​with​ ​everything​ ​sleep​ ​is​ ​and​ ​does.’

So:​ ​what​ ​is​ ​sleep?​ ​Well,​ ​it’s​ ​not​ ​‘the absence​ ​of​ ​wakefulness’​. It’s​ ​the presence​ ​of​ ​something, ​a​ ​different​ ​state​ ​— one ​that​ ​heals​ ​you,​ ​increases​ ​your lifespan,​ ​helps​ ​you​ ​to​ ​look​ ​slim​ ​and​ ​toned, makes​ ​you​ ​brighter​ ​and​ ​more​ ​charming, more​ ​attractive,​ ​sharper,​ ​better​ ​at​ ​maths and​ ​spelling,​ ​better​ ​at​ ​driving.​ ​I​ ​could​ ​go on​ ​for​ ​ages​.​ ​Walker​ ​tells​ ​you,​ ​over and​ ​over,​ ​of​ ​the​ ​benefits​ ​of​ ​sleep.​ ​Reading late​ ​at​ ​night,​ ​I​ ​turned​ ​the​ ​pages, fascinated,​ ​hour after​ ​hour.​ ​I​ ​kept​ ​wanting to​ ​go​ ​to​ ​sleep.​ ​But​ ​not​ ​because​ ​the​ ​book is​ ​dull.​ ​It’s​ ​like​ ​reading​ ​about​ ​the​ ​joy​ ​of swimming,​ ​and​ ​wanting​ ​to​ ​jump​ ​into​ ​a lake.

It’s​ ​not​ ​just​ ​that​ ​sleep​ ​is​ ​good.​ ​It’s​ ​that​ ​not sleeping​ ​—​ ​or​ ​even​ ​not​ ​sleeping​ ​for​ ​the​ ​full eight​ ​hours​ ​—​ ​can​ ​be​ ​terrible.​

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