why we sleep. Dog is lying on the bedDo you think you’re getting enough sleep every night? As a society, our discussions around sleep have mainly revolved around encouraging ourselves and others to get the rest we need. However, we aren’t prioritizing or maintaining good sleep habits. We hardly understand or talk about the impact sleep has on various aspects of our lives.

Tweet: Dimensional Insight Book Club: Why We Sleep

After thinking about sleep, the Dimensional Insight Book Club decided to read Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker. For the past six weeks, we have been enjoying this book, and trying not to fall asleep while reading it! (Although the author said it’s OK if the book induced drowsiness.) What have our readers learned about sleep?

Meet our panel

Our book club panel for Why We Sleep consists of George Dealy, vice president of healthcare applications; Rose Weinberger, senior marketing manager; Raul Amez, InterReport consultant; Kathy Sucich, senior content and communications manager; and myself.

Q: What is your main takeaway from the book?

George: Sleep is way more important to physical and mental health than I ever realized.

Rose: For years, I’ve felt guilty about the amount of sleep I get. Or to be more precise, I’ve felt guilty that I might be sleeping too much. Every weekend, I love to take an afternoon nap, much to the chagrin of my fiancé. My sleeping habits are so different from his that he teases me about it, calling me “Rose Van Winkle.” (You may recall that “Rip Van Winkle was a man who inadvertently slept 20 years). The main takeaway I got from this book was the liberation from guilt! I no longer feel guilty about my lengthy sleep habits. I now understand that it is OK to get more sleep. In fact, I may be even healthier than others because I get the sleep I need.

Kathy: Sleep is super important! It impacts so much in our lives – not just our energy levels, but also our performance at work and school, our eating habits, our body’s response to illness, and much more.

Raul: Sleep is one of our most important biological functions and depriving yourself of a healthy amount of it will undoubtedly cause a range of illnesses.

Natalie: For me, the main takeaway was realizing how impactful sleep is on our lives – job/school performance, appetite control, effect on illness, overall happiness, and so much more. It’s so important to develop, prioritize, and maintain good sleep habits.

Q: What was most fascinating to you in the book? What was the most surprising to you?

Natalie: I was most fascinated by Walker’s discussion of dreams, specifically how dreams can act as overnight therapy. According to Walker, dreams during REM sleep offer us emotional resolution from the major episodes experienced during the day. I was also surprised by the idea that dreams have an impact on our creativity, allowing us to “sleep on a problem” and then sometimes waking up with that “ah-ha” moment. I now understand where the expression “sleep on it” comes from.

George: What happens during both NREM and REM sleep including that your body is literally paralyzed during REM sleep – likely for very Darwinian reasons. I also realized that if I’m trying to understand or memorize something, if I study it while I’m alert, the information will actually move into “longer term/intermediate memory” while I’m sleeping. I’ve tried this with presentations and it seems to work. On the other hand, cramming on little or no sleep (as in all-nighters)? Probably not so much.

Rose: I was most fascinated and surprised by the information about how birds sleep. Birds are able to sleep with their eyes open. And if there is a row of sleeping birds, the 2 birds on each end of the row will keep the exposed eye open while sleeping. In this way, the end birds can “keep an eye out” for predators to protect the entire row of birds. And these 2 birds will periodically turnaround 180 degrees to swap the open eye. Amazing!

Kathy: I was fascinated by Walker’s discussion of our sleep drive (the build-up of adenosine during the day) and our natural circadian rhythm and how they contribute to our urge to sleep. In addition, Walker talked about how our brains are more “on guard” when we are in a new sleep environment, and that’s why so many of us don’t sleep well in hotels. Combine that with the circadian rhythm’s inability to adjust more than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period, and I now know why I’ll be wide awake at 3:00am when I’m visiting a city in a different time zone. I was surprised at how not getting enough sleep just one night can impact what you remember from not only the previous day, but also several days beforehand. Sleep helps cement memories and learning.

Raul: I was fascinated by the mechanism in which the brain locks outgoing signals to the body during sleep, but passes visual and audio signals during REM sleep. I was surprised to learn how sleep occurs in ocean mammals, specifically how half of their brain sleeps while the other half keeps basic functions going. I was also surprised to see how much more at risk you are for a stroke if you’re not getting enough sleep.

Q: How many hours of sleep do you typically get per night? Based on Walker’s suggestions for healthier sleep, what is one idea that you would put into action to improve your current quality of sleep?

Raul: I get about 8 hours, give or take an hour. I will do a better job at maintaining a regular bed time, as I work early hours on weekdays. I tend to change up my hours on weekends, which is a bad habit.

Natalie: I typically get 7-7.5 hours of sleep per night but would like to improve that to 8 hours. Instead of lying in bed and getting worried about not falling asleep immediately, I will be better at only lying down when I’m actually starting to sleep. According to Walker, it’s better to only lie down when you’re just ready to go to bed. Therefore, I can spend my time reading or listening to music instead of staring at the ceiling.

George: I try to sleep until my body tells me it’s time to wake up. That’s typically right around 7 hours. Idea from the book: go to bed – and at the same time – as much as possible.

Rose: I typically get 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Based on Walker’s suggestions, the only thing I would change is to give into sleepiness more often instead of struggling to stay awake. I now know it is very healthy to get enough sleep.

Kathy: In the book, Walker recommends that people track their sleep. I already do, via my Fitbit. So I can tell you that in 2018, I have slept an average of 6 hours and 43 minutes each night. My goal is to improve that to at least 7 hours nightly. I’m pretty committed to waking up at the time I do each morning, so I have been trying to wind down earlier each night and, as Walker suggests, to avoid caffeine too late in the day.

Q: Matthew Walker believes that our society is in the middle of a “silent sleep loss epidemic,” which poses as the “greatest public health challenge in the 21st century.” What are your thoughts?

Kathy: Gosh, there are a lot of public health challenges right now. I would probably rank obesity ahead of sleep loss, as it is a contributing factor to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, and much more. However, like a lot of health challenges, they are intertwined, and as Walker points out, poor sleep habits contribute to these illnesses too. Plus, more sleep leads to better appetite control. I think we as a society – and as individuals – need to think about our priorities and what we value. How do we prefer to spend our days? (And nights?) For me, sleep an in important part of that equation. As is work. And movement. And family. And good books. And wine. (Although Walker would disagree with my stance on that last one – he talks about how alcohol is bad for sleep and we should cut it out.)

Raul: If the effects of improper sleep are as severe as Walker claims (and I do think they are), I do think more needs to be done to inform the public about this problem. It would be a large cultural undertaking.

Natalie: It’s not the “greatest public health challenge” but it is a major factor to other health challenges. Poor sleep has an impact on our health whether it’s eating habits and appetite control to our body’s response to illness. I think we need to better understand how intertwined sleep is with public health challenges e.g. diabetes and heart failure as well as prioritize our need to develop and maintain good sleeping habits.

George: It may not be the biggest public health challenge, but it’s probably up in the top few. If you look at it in the context of its role as one of the components of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which in turn leads to a higher quality of life, more lifelong productivity, and a lower burden on society from disease. You can make the case that it has very significant and direct cost implications, including societal and actual dollars.

Rose: I don’t think it is the “greatest” threat. There are so many public health challenges that it would be difficult to prioritize them in terms of what is most pressing.

Q: What do you think business leaders should take away from this book?

Kathy: A lot of businesses have this notion that more time in the office = more output. That’s not the case. If businesses want optimal output from employees, they need to provide them with adequate time to rest. Sleep will help employees remember what they’ve learned. In addition, more time dreaming leads to more creative ideas. I think for healthcare organizations, in particular, there’s a lot of good information in here about the negative aspects of having providers work long shifts. Longer shifts lead to tired healthcare providers which leads to more medical errors. If we’re looking to improve patient outcomes, a good place to start would be to improve the health of their providers.

Raul: Business leaders should be more flexible with work hours and avoid scheduling important meetings after lunch.

Natalie: Business leaders need to encourage better work-life balance for themselves and their employees. Healthier employees will lead to increased productivity and greater output, not those who spend 80+ hours a week working. More time in the office doesn’t necessarily equate to better job performance. Therefore, they should encourage themselves and their employees to get the sleep they need.

George: Encourage employees to get the sleep they need – and get the sleep they need themselves! (It was interesting to see how focused the military is on the sleep issue.) The conventional thinking has always been that warriors and leaders alike need to function effectively in sleep deprived states. That’s likely proving to be impossible.

Rose: Business leaders should read this book! If they understood the productivity gains enjoyed by people who are fully rested…changes would be made at their companies. Flex time would help people to work at their optimum time of day. Nap rooms at the office would allow people to recharge. Let’s get creative in helping people get the sleep they need!

Q: If you could recommend someone to read this book, who would it be and why?

Rose: Selfishly, I’d want my fiancé to read it. Maybe then I’d lose the nickname “Rose Van Winkle!”

Kathy: I have already suggested it to my husband. He often goes to bed later and is still up somewhat early. I sometimes tease him for his ability to nap any time, anywhere. I’m now realizing that maybe I should let up on that and just let him snooze.

Raul: My brother – he’s always had trouble sleeping and keeping a regular schedule. He’s better now but I think this book could help him understand the risks he takes when not getting proper rest.

Natalie: I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially college students. If I had read this during college, I would have prioritized my sleep instead of feeling pressure to work until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. or even pull “all-nighters.” Looking back, those hours spent struggling to work on a long paper or project weren’t that productive.

George: Just about anyone, but definitely my own family – especially the kids. They still have an opportunity to develop good life long habits.

Q: Do you consider yourself to be a “morning lark” or a “night owl”?

George: Morning lark. No doubt about that.

Rose: I am definitely a morning lark. I love to get up early. And I am so productive in the morning!

Kathy: I am a morning lark. I wake up at 5:00 every morning and get in a workout at the gym before I get ready for work. I do a lot of thinking while I exercise, so I find it gets my day off on literally the right foot!

Raul: Morning lark, and I’m fortunate that being on the West Coast, I can work East Coast hours to fit my natural sleep cycle.

Natalie: I am a night owl but I don’t mind getting up early in the morning if I get the sleep I need.

Next Book Club pick: Reverse Innovation in Healthcare

For our next selection, we will be reading Reverse Innovation in Healthcare: How to Make Value-Based Delivery Work. Healthcare is moving away from a delivery system based on volume, with a strong emphasis on value, measured by patient outcomes per dollar spent. Vijay Govindarajan and Ravi Ramamurti explore different ways healthcare organizations can apply Indian-style principles to attack the exorbitant costs and incomplete access to healthcare. If you want to read along with us, you have until October 1. Also, let us know if you’d like to be on our book panel or have any suggestions for future selections!

Natalie Cantave

Natalie Cantave is a product marketing manager at Dimensional Insight. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH.
Natalie Cantave