02 January 2015

Review: The Secret Life of Sleep by Kat Duff

The Secret Life of Sleep by Kat Duff book cover
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.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum & Sweet Dreams!

Would you like to comment?

  1. Oh my god!? Being able to manipulate your dreams would be amazing! How did you learn to do that? I never used to remember my dreams but since my seachange I do (more so anyway). And I have a few recurring dreams.

    I'm not a non-fiction fan but the issue of sleep is interesting as I'm a terrible insomniac. For me getting to sleep is an issue and it rarely takes me less than a couple of hours. Once I'm asleep though... I'm dead to the world!

  2. Thanks Deb, I didn't 'learn' how to do it, it just came naturally from a desire to 'continue' in the story after being woken, or waking upset or troubled and wanting to 'change' it.

    I can still remember 3 dreams I had yesterday and one I had this morning :-) I think it helps that I don't get up as soon as my alarm goes off. I doze a lot and really explore my dream state as much as I can, it's irresistible. I know you say you're not a fan of non-fiction, but perhaps learning about sleep and why you might suffer from insomnia would be of enormous benefit. Something to consider anyway...


Thanks for your comment, Carpe Librum!