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The Science of Sleep
on 21 April 2012
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.