978-0-00-655172-0 / 9780006551720

Counting Sheep: The Science and Pleasures of Sleep and Dreams





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About the book:

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

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