Book: The secret world of sleep

Addressing the key question of why our brain needs its downtime. By Bill Condie.

The Secret World of Sleep: The Surprising Science of the Mind at Rest
Penelope Lewis, Macmillan Science, RRP $29.99

Shakespeare knew the value of sleep “that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care… balm of hurt minds”, perhaps even better than today’s scientists. It is clear from this unexpectedly entertaining book that there is still much to learn.

Penelope Lewis, director of the Sleep and Memory Lab at the University of Manchester, takes the non-scientist through the state of play with research. She addresses key questions of why we sleep, how we dream and how our brain’s chemicals and neurotransmitters work when we are in the land of Nod.

Sleep, even a 10-minute nap, is essential to regulate our moods, memory and learning ability. As to precisely why, the jury is still out, although Lewis pieces together the mosaic of sometimes-conflicting studies so far.

In the end, she says, there is a very good reason why the world of sleep is likely to remain secret for some time to come. There is not yet the technology to delve into our brain functions fully to understand the sleep processes. So the Bard’s explanation remains one of the best we have.

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