The Promise of Sleep

January 22, 2008

Recently finished The Promise of Sleep, by William C. Dement, who is perhaps the world’s leading researcher on sleep. Dement’s point, which he makes over and over again, is that people need more sleep than they regularly obtain, and this sleep debt causes many of our modern ills.

Dement points out that most people don’t realize that the Exxon Valdez spill was caused not by the drunken captain, as most people think, as the captain had left the bridge hours before the crash, but by a younger mate who had only 6 hours of sleep in the previous 48, and thus is more attributable to sleep debt than to drunken sailing.

However, I find little of practical value other than the point that “Americans need more sleep” in the massively long book, and, after several hundred pages, I felt like Dement was asking a bit of the reader to continue a book that has only a single message.

But maybe my objections come because this is a message that I don’t want to hear. The remnants of the graduate-school “sleep is no substitute for a good cup of coffee” mentality still in my system, or the hope that maybe polyphasic sleep could turn me into a superhero. I think to these hopes, Dement would tell me to grow up, and to make time for what is one of the most important human activities.

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