A deeply yawning face fills the cover of The Secret Life of Sleep, a book that will capture the attention of anyone who has trouble sleeping. Author Kat Duff has chosen to address this topic in part because sleep issues affect such a high percentage of people today. According to a pioneering sleep scientist, William Dement, “Unhealthy sleep remains American’s largest, deadliest, most costly and least studied health problem.”
Kat Duff has definitely studied the problem. She does a thorough job of researching and providing insights into the sleep state, which every living creature participates in on some level. She touches on the common contributors to sleep deprivation, which have grown more intrusive in our modern age of round the clock commerce and pressures to perform and be productive at our jobs, despite the toll it takes on our health. The Secret Life of Sleep addresses such disorders as insomnia, sleep paralysis, narcolepsy, sleepwalking and something I can relate to, but never had a term for… sleep worry.
There are as many psychological causes for sleep deprivation as there are physical and environmental ones. Reading The Secret Life of Sleep has taught me much about this frustrating and even debilitating experience, such as understanding that short wakeful periods during the night are a natural part of the sleep cycle along with slow-wave sleep, in contrast with the active REM sleep. When sleep ceases to be such a mystery, it is easier to know what is normal (and for me, let go of sleep worry) and learn techniques to reset circadian clocks to counteract the pressures of modern life.
Duff explores the history of sleep aids and how solving the issue of sleep birthed the pharmaceutical industry. She outlines the dangers of prescription sleep aids, and explains how they can become a dangerous addiction. The reality is they only serve to mask the fact that you aren’t sleeping well, rather than actually helping you with deeper sleep.
In addition to an excellent job of addressing the complexity of sleep disorders, the book draws from literature, culture, science, and spiritual traditions from across time and the globe to understand the human sleep experience. It looks at how dreams relate to wakefulness, investigates the idea that our unconscious sleeping state is actually an awakening to another conscious life we live beyond what we called “reality” and suggests that there may be more meaning to the time we spend in this sleep state than we have acknowledged.
Duff takes us into how the role sleep plays in our cognitive function, and assists with memory, learning and problem solving. She shows how a good night’s sleep can have a more positive effect on the success of an activity than spending extra time practicing. The book also helps us understand how dreams help unveil things which are bothering us and process emotions we may not be able to approach as well in wakefulness.
The Secret Life of Sleep is the best book I have ever read on the subject, which entertains and educates. For anyone who is struggling with a sleep disorder, this is a must read. For those who are interested in the depth of life, as sleep brings richness and meaning to our consciousness, this is a wonderland of understanding.