Book Review: The Secret Life of Sleep

 In Blog, Book Review

The Secret Life of Sleep, 2014

Author: Kat Duff

I decided to read The Secret Life of Sleep* after watching an interview with the author in which she shared that people have told her that after reading her book they were sleeping so much better. As a working mom I’m always interested in getting better sleep, so this piqued my curiosity. The interesting thing is, this is not a how-to book. There are no bullet points of do x, y and z to fall asleep faster or secrets to making four hours of sleep feel like eight. It is simply a fascinating and factual look at how we spend one third of our lives.

The reasoning, I suppose, is that what you give attention to is what gets nurtured in your life. So if you are focusing on and learning about sleep, sleep will come to you as you are more welcoming to it. Personally, I found my sleep to be richer after reading this book. I respect it more and appreciate more everything that it does for me. I no longer feel guilty lounging a little longer on those days my son allows me to sleep in. Sometimes I go to bed early just for the sheer pleasure of the peace of being able to lay there alone with my thoughts.

So if The Secret Life of Sleep is not a how to book, what does it talk about? Kat covers the gamut of sleep, from historical and cultural perspectives to sleep aids and waking aids to the stages of sleep and of course, the ever fascinating world of dreaming. I learned a lot about the netherworld of sleep and the just before and just after stages of sleep, but here are some of the things that stood out to me the most.

  1. The contrast between our western view of sleep (it’s for the lazy, conscious hours are valued far more than sleeping hours) and historical and eastern views (where sleep and all its components are more highly prized). I had never really considered this disconnect before but after exploring it with Kat I do find that we could be a little more kind to ourselves here in America. Without sufficient sleep those highly valued waking hours are much less effective.
  2. The world of sleep aids. I’ve never experienced insomnia to the point that I would turn to medication, and reading about pharmaceutical sleep aids made me appreciate that all the more. The rise of “Ambien zombies” eating, driving, even having sex while completely asleep was appalling to me, especially after learning that these types of drugs, on average, only give insomnia sufferers an average of eleven extra minutes of sleep.
  3. The discussion about dreams, their meanings and the possibilities surrounding them. Are they just the equivalent of psychological flatulence or are they more than that? Can we learn about the depths of our subconscious minds, get a glimpse of the future or a snippet of a message from loved ones who have passed on? The author does not speculate too deeply on her own thoughts on these questions, but provides interesting information so that the reader can ponder these mysteries on their own.

Overall I really enjoyed this book. It kept me wondering what new and useful information would come next and I learned quite a bit. Kat’s style and genuine curiosity comes through in the best way and I enjoyed very much how she would interject appropriate quotes from literature around the world. I would have liked to see some exploration of the phenomena of lucid dreaming and a little more depth on the commonalities and differences between dreamers in different cultures. Perhaps in a future edition Kat will venture down these roads.


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