Alice Gregory
Bloomsbury Sigma
2018 | 304pp | £16.99
ISBN  9781472946188

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A picture of the Nodding off Book Cover

I still find it incredible that we spend a third of our lives asleep. It feels like it should be a made-up statistic, like the oft-quoted myth that we ‘only use 10% of our brains’. I also find it equally amazing how, despite it being such a weird and essential part of our lives, most of us know very little about sleep. It’s something for me that was made stark by the innocuous but impossible to answer question ‘What is sleep?’ in the first chapter of Alice Gregory’s Nodding Off.

Gregory is a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK, and her research focuses on sleep: something that is many people’s favourite activity, though not one we always get enough of. Her book explains the purpose, psychology and physiology of sleep at different stages of life from newborn babies to those deep into retirement. She details the barriers to good sleep, including various pathological disorders, providing a grounding on the latest research into their causes and possible remedies. The book is rich with accounts of research projects, expert testimonies and anecdotes from the author’s life.

It’s clear that this field is still in its infancy and Gregory writes at the cutting edge of research. However, this does seem to mean that much of what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is subjective and specific to the individual. Perhaps those who would find Nodding Off most useful are parents, or those with more serious sleeping conditions. The former may at least benefit from an understanding of the biology of their ‘lazy’ adolescent or screaming baby, whilst the latter may realise they deserve to seek the medical help they have been putting off. However, if you’re simply a poor sleeper like myself, there’s unlikely to be much advice in the book that you haven’t already heard elsewhere.

Nevertheless, Nodding Off is well paced and an engaging read. With her use of sometimes unusual analogies, Gregory has a talent for explaining her work to a non-specialist audience and her passion for her subject is apparent. So even if you don’t discover the panacea for your sleeping problems within the book’s pages, you’ll likely enjoy learning about the most mysterious third of your life.