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The Secret Life of Sleep by Kat Duff

The Secret Life of Sleep

by Kat Duff

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I decided to read this book in order to understand my long-term sleeping problem. I found the description of sleep in past centuries to be a helpful explanation for where my problems may have come from. I don't think much of the author's long, tedious analysis of dreams and the significance of dreams through religion, spirituality an new-age hokum. I skipped a lot of it. The final chapter in which the author makes a plea for old-fashioned sleep without resorting to sleep aids sounded quaint, given the world most of us have to live in. ( )
  baobab | Sep 22, 2015 |
I borrowed The Secret Life of Sleep by Kat Duff from the library in order to read more about one of my favourite topics (sleep) and to find out why some people (like my husband) wake up before dawn and can't go back to sleep - even though they're tired.

The Secret Life of Sleep is a fascinating read, and along the way I learned that the term for the sudden leg jerk that happens as you're falling asleep is called myoclonic kick or sleep start. We've all experienced this phenomenon: it feels like you're falling and jerk awake to stop yourself, getting a fright in the process.

I bet you didn't know though that the split-second dream you have of falling prior to the primitive reflex (leg jerk) is derived by our brain to explain the sensation. You might think the dream has caused the jerk to occur, but it's actually the other way around, absolutely fascinating!! (All explained in detail on Page 6).

Duff also elaborates on one of the most common themes in my dreams (hurried movement) in the following quote from Page 163:
"One of the most commonly described features of dreaming is the sense of hurried movement. It seems we are always jumping, falling, flying, running, or driving in our dreams, and if we finally come to a standstill, we usually wake up. We repeatedly encounter novel, confusing, and disturbing situations, get lost and run late, forever trying to get ourselves properly oriented in time and space." Page 163

Here's another great tidbit from the book:
"Research indicates that many of us do not reach our full abilities for two hours after waking, something [to] try to remember in morning traffic." Page 188

I also enjoyed reading about something I've been able to do for years, and that's manipulate my dreams. If I wake up during a dream, I'm able to go 'back in' and keep going with the theme/topic to enjoy it, or go 'back in' and change it to a better outcome (e.g. if I'm dreaming a loved one is hurt, I can go in and change the dream so that it doesn't happen). Kat Duff calls this ability lucid dreaming and Charles Dickens was a lucid dreamer; who knew?

The Secret Life of Sleep is an easy look at the ins and outs of sleep and dreaming, including the problems we have now in getting enough quality sleep, the use of stimulants and sleeping pills and the pressure to work on fewer hours of rest. This is a great read, my only wish would have been fewer personal anecdotes from the author; some were extremely relevant and interesting and others could have been edited out. ( )
  Carpe_Librum | Jan 2, 2015 |
Rather than a roundup of the science of sleep—and there’s a lot, much of it contradictory—Kat Duff offers a cultural and literary history of the state in which we spend roughly a third of our lives.

Among other interesting bits of information—mentioned also in A. Roger Ekirch’s At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past—that before our technology-enabled habit of artificial light to beat back the darkness, we often slept in two shifts, with a middle period for reading, contemplation, sex, or whatever. But advances both in time-keeping and lighting led us to fit our bodies to the schedules of the timekeepers, and so now we rely on a single period of sleep and are generally assumed to need eight hours (more or less).

Duff does includes some neuroscience, such as the way that sleep alters brain activity in ways that may lead us to moments of creativity or insight associated with sleep, but the real strength here is her gift for narrative and her interest in the experience of sleep as opposed to the mechanics. She is less concerned with “sleep hygiene,” the popular term for habits that lead to “good sleep,” and more interested in how we perceive sleep and dreaming, and what use we make of it.

Reviewed on Lit/Rant: http://litrant.tumblr.com/post/86991100484/sweet-dreams-the-secret-life-of-sleep... ( )
  KelMunger | Jun 5, 2014 |
This author is not what I would characterize as an expert on sleep but she has assembled a vast amount of information on the topic from people are - both of a historical and a contemporary nature. She deals with a vast array of topics including insomnia, sleeping aids, dreams, REM and deep sleep etc. I learned a lot for instance sleeping pills on average give people just over ten additional minutes of sleep a night and also about the damage done by continued use of energy drinks and caffeine laced products. This book I would characterized as a large collection of enlightening snippets and factoids but is easy to read and worth the time. ( )
  muddyboy | Apr 10, 2014 |
Falling asleep and waking up at "normal" hours has always been a struggle for me, so I thought a book on the intricacies of sleep might help me understand my body's inconvenient sleep cycle. I’m happy to say that "The Secret Life of Sleep" provides plenty of insight into how sleep works (including my sleeping problems) and I’ve gained a new appreciation for how sleep affects my body, mind and life.

The main topics covered are going to sleep, sleeping, and waking up, with many subtopics touched upon, including the problems of sleep aids, our perception of how well/long we slept compared to reality, how having two periods of sleep with a period of quiet wakefulness in between is better than one long sleep period, the function of dreams in learning, and the emotional, physical, and cognitive effects of sleep.

The book is impressively balanced and comprehensive with various fields and viewpoints tapped. Apt quotes from authors and famous people support certain points, and the author's research draws from historical, psychological, scientific, cultural and philosophical works. This is a great introduction to everything sleep related, and the references serve as a jumping off point for further research. I learned a lot of interesting and useful things, and was inspired to look at some topics in more detail elsewhere.

As far as critiques go, the author used a few personal stories as examples, some of which were illustrative and helpful, but others didn’t add much, and overall it seemed intrusive to have the author talk about herself in a research-based book. Also, though the book was well written, I occasionally found myself growing tired or my mind wandering, which is unusual for me, so I'm thinking sections of this book must be a dry/slow read. I still enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about sleep.

Note: I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  PencilStubs | Feb 9, 2014 |
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Citing a high percentage of Americans who routinely experience sleep problems or shortages, the award-winning author of The Alchemy of Illness draws on a wide range of disciplines to reveal the healing benefits of sleep and argue for its prioritizing.--Publisher information.… (more)

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Beyond Words Publishing

2 editions of this book were published by Beyond Words Publishing.

Editions: 1582704686, 1582704694

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