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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
There are hardly any other things in life that we take for granted as much as we do sleep. For most of us getting a good night sleep is one of the best simple pleasures in life. We only start thinking about sleep when we are not getting enough of it, a condition that is becoming increasingly common in the modern world. Even when we do give sleep some serious though, it is almost never something that we study in any great depth. Sleep is simple. We either sleep enough, or we don't. And yet sleep is a very complex and still poorly understood phenomenon. "Sleep - A Very Short Introduction" is an incredible little book that takes us on an exploration of what we know about sleep right now.

The primary approach of this book is scientific. All of the best scientific evidence is presented, and the authors don't engage in much speculation except to point out a few prevailing theories about the origin and purpose of sleep. The social and cultural attitudes to sleep are mentioned only insofar as they provide an example of the way that our "natural" sleeping patterns can get distorted, and the serious consequences of these alterations to individual and public health.

Some of the most interesting parts of this book deal with sleep in animal kingdom. It turns out that some kind of "sleep state" occurs in almost all species, but the exact analogue to mammalian sleep is not entirely common. The attempts to discover evolutionary basis for sleep thus create almost as many questions as they offer answers.

One of the most remarkable features of this short book is its ability to be equally at ease in the esoteric scientific topics as well as in the more applied everyday matters. After reading it I had not only learned so much about the physiological mechanisms of sleep, but I was also able to come away with a few truly useful and insightful tips. Even the practices that I had intuitively stumbled upon in the past have thanks to this book been put in a much more intelligible and evidence-based context. This book may not help with all of your sleeping questions and problems, but it's definitely a very good start from which to take your inquiries further.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2012
I have read several of the books in this series, and the later titles have really got into their stride. The two authors true experts in the field, and have managed to pack a lot of at times dense information into the book. The highly technical sections are kept brief for those readers who lack a background in, for example neuroscience, and there is clear guidance for those seeking a strong evidence base for approaches that can help ameliorate various sleep disorders. The book is well-laid out, and manages to strike a good balance between the risk of over-condensation versus simplistic brevity.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 15 May 2012
The importance of sleep in our lives is the subject of this brillaintly concise and precise intrroduction to an enormously important field. The book is readable, erudite and implicitly passionate about the subject. The range of the book is frankly astonishing and justifies the 'very short introduction' tag since it only runs 150 pages in a small format book.

Everyone should read this. I can't imagine anyone who would not benefit from understanding the importance of sleep, and the huge impact it has on our lives and our society. Sleep deprivation is a serious danger to people living in modern society.

The authors are particularly careful to reference their statements by using articles that can be downloaded free- a nice touch for those who want to follow up the issues.
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on 5 January 2014
Sleep takes up about one third of our lives. Therefore it is important to understand sleep and its pathologies. This book fully meets this requirement and is therefore recommended to all who want to gain some insight into a hidden but crucial part of being a human.
As frankly stated in the book, many features of sleep and the factors shaping it are not really understood. A definition of sleep fitting comparable phenomena in all forms of life is lacking. And, most important of all, "The reasons why we sleep remain frustratingly unresolved" (p. 40). But some of the essential functions of human sleep are known. These include many biological ones. On the mental level, "In humans, procedurial learning, declarative learning, and even higher-level "insights" - the process of mental restructing in the brain, that leads to a sudden gain of understandilgn or explicit knowledge - have been shown to depend on sleep" (p. 52). Also, "sleep helps our brains find creative solutions" (p.1).

All the more serious are the consequences of sleep deprivation and disturbances, as caused by a variety of pathologies; shift work; disruption of the natural day-night cycle which is hardwired into humans by its evolutionary history, caused by modern 24 hour active, noisy and brightly lightened modern societies; and personal neglect of sleep requirements.
This leads to a very important issue, not discussed in the book, namely the potentially serious consequences of sleep deprivation and disturbances by high level decision makers. The work schedule of political leaders increases the dangers of serious and sometimes catastrophic errors, especially in crisis situations. This is also the case when traveling through time zones, rushing from continent to continent for important meetings.
Matters are made even worse because of unawareness of lack of sleep consequences."While there are individual differences in how sleep deficiency affects alertness and performance, no-one is immune....Unfortunately, our sleepy brain cannot judge our own abilities, and as a result we are sometimes blissfully, and dangerously, unaware of our impaired performance" (p. 91). And, again, "the sleepy brain cannot evaluate itself and often underestimates how sleepy we are" (p. 105).
Fatigue-reducing drugs are only helpful for short periods and then produce aggravated mental capacity degradations. Therefore, essential is strict time management making sure that high level decision makers have enough time and suitable conditions for sleeping about six to seven hours daily, with few exceptions; and that they follow special regimes to reduce jet-lag problems and in crisis situations. But, my studies of quite a number of heads of governments around the world show that when critical issues are faced sleep deprivation is the rule, with more than a few dismal consequences. It would be very interesting to learn if this played a role in "sleepwalking" into the catastrophe of World War One 100 years ago, but in the various books being published on this episode contain no information on the sleep rationing of the critical decision makers, such data being usually unavailable..
I wish the authors had taken up the problem of sleep deprivation by senior decision makers, which can easily cause much more damage than drowsy driving as discussed by them (pp. 103-107), however tragic.
All the more so this book is strongly recommended to all, including top level decision makers. I will include it in the recommended reading list of my next book on required qualities of political leadership.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2012
This book provides most information about sleep that you may want to know. Accessible to the general readers, it presents a useful account of the science of sleep, the reasons for sleep, common sleep disorders, sleep and health as well as the 24-hour society.

Sleep is more than a passive state of unconsciousness as there are many activities taking place during sleep. Depending on the duration of sleep, we may experience on average 4-5 (NREM - REM) sleep cycles per night. We need exposure to the 24-hour light and dark pattern in order to synchronize the biological and environment rhythms. Our sleep patterns change with age. The changes in sleeping patterns throughout life may also be associated with sleep disorders. Although sleep may be critical for the consolidation of learning and memory, it cannot be the sole reason why a state of sleep evolved in the animal world.

The most common sleep disorder is insomnia (inability to sleep) which is also a common symptom in psychiatric disorders. We should not take Insomnia or insufficient sleep lightly because they are associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke and depression. Parasomnias (e.g. sleepwalking, sleep eating or sleep paralysis) is a more serious sleep disorder that involves undesirable events with sleep.

Apart from sleep problems, fatigue, poor performance and memory, shift-workers have increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. Jetlag is essentially the same problem as shift-work because they arise from the mismatch of circadian rhythms with the environmental light-dark cycle. By minimizing the sleep disruption and the mismatch between circadian clock and light-dark cycle, it is possible to manage jetlag and shift-work effectively. We should be wary of serious health hazards associated with the 24-hour society we increasingly live in. To be healthy, we should take more sleep and have regular sleep-wake schedule each day!
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on 4 January 2014
Useful but by virtue of the "very brief intro" genre, this ends up being extremely dry reading. Too many sub topics to be covered in too brief a space - hence there is no substantive discussion to get the reader drawn into. And the "brief" facts one may as well pick up by a google search, for free...
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on 13 August 2014
This is a great series of introductory books and this is a particularly well-written and comprehensive one. Gets a bit technical in places but it's not laboured and the basic concepts are well explained and give an excellent overview of something we do a lot of, but on the whole don't understand that much.
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on 24 December 2012
This is a small but dense book on the subject of sleep. Lots of useful science and information. I learned a lot about the hormones that facilitate and control sleep.
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on 5 May 2013
This is series is perfect for getting up to speed quickly on any subject, and this is another good book in the series.
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on 29 January 2015
exactly what you expect. not in depth but a quick place to start
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