Counting Sheep: The Science and Pleasures of Sleep and Dreams

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9780006551720: Counting Sheep: The Science and Pleasures of Sleep and Dreams

A brilliant overview of that most vital, most underrated and most elusive of human activities, sleep.

Using the approach and skills he deployed to such successful effect on the relationship between mind and body in the prize-winning ‘The Sickening Mind’, likeable British popular science author Paul Martin here tackles the science of that most mysterious, elusive and alluring of human activities, sleeping, and draws on both cutting-edge neuroscience and classic literature to do so.

We spend one third of our lives asleep, but know hardly anything about it, and can remember so little of it as we come out of it. Why?

Are dreams the place we go to resolve our problems, emasculate our fears and rehearse our hopes? Why are we paralysed when we dream? Why did sleep evolve?

And is anybody getting enough sleep?

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Review:

A good kip, a nice nap, forty winks--we all know how agreeable it is to hit the hay. In Counting Sheep, Cambridge scientist Paul Martin, onetime Director of Communication at the Cabinet Office, analyses quite why sleep is so biologically and psychologically rewarding.

The book is divided into seven sections, with titles like "Preliminaries, Mechanisms and Origins". Using this scaffolding Martin confidently builds his thesis, that sleep is an adaptation for resting the weary body, which Homo sapiens has since cannily put to other uses (like dreaming).

But this is no dry Darwinian text. Martin is a plausible and highly engaging writer who has a gift for the telling anecdote: witness the Empress of Russia who employed an old woman specifically to tickle her feet so as she could drop off, or the famous-but-sleepy pianist who could only be roused by his wife playing an unresolved chord. Other enlightening diversions take Martin through the pros and cons of hypnotics, sleepwalking, snoring, late night milky drinks, nightmares, fatigued politicos and bedmates. Every section is enlivened by lots of pithy and well-chosen quotes, like James Joyce's blissfully simple: "warm beds, warm full-blooded life".

The author concludes with a chapter on sleeping problems. Many people have trouble getting the right amount of kip from time to time, and Martin gives sage advice on the best sleep regimens and remedies. But you don't have to be a narcoleptic or an insomniac to enjoy Counting Sheep: almost anyone should find this perfect bedtime reading. --Sean Thomas

Review:

A fascinating account of what happens during the dark third of our lives, the time with which we are so familiar but about which we know so little. -- Sunday Telegraph 23 June 2002

A masterpiece of efficiently and entertainingly delivered information, bracingly clear and thoroughly researched. -- New Statesman 8 July 2002

A thoroughly engaging and passionate book, littered with fascinating experiments, titillating examples and offbeat asides. -- Scotland on Sunday 23 June 2002

Energetic and immensely readable, this is as good a popular science book as I have read. -- Evening Standard 17 June 2002

Just about everything you could possibly wish to know about sleep...Marvellous. -- Sunday Times 21 July 2002

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