Book Review: The Nocturnal Brain, by Guy Leschziner • Glam Adelaide

Book Review: The Nocturnal Brain, by Guy Leschziner

With compassionate stories of his patients and their conditions, Leschziner illustrates the neuroscience behind our sleeping minds.

A fascinating insight into the often disturbed and disturbing world of sleep.

Guy Leschziner, a neurologist, heads the Sleep Disorder Centre in London and this book discusses a variety of enthralling case studies of sleep disorders which range from the quirky to downright dangerous.

The author has a lively narrative style and his caring and sympathetic attitude to those who suffer from the various sleep disorders comes across strongly. This is a popular science book, aimed at the general reader but although the cases are fascinating, the detailed neuroscience through which the author seeks to explain how parts of the brain can be active and awake while we are sleeping, is at times very dense. However, not fully comprehending the details of functions of specific brain regions in no way detracted from my overall understanding and enjoyment of the text.

The case studies described often begin with a description of the frustrating time the patient has had in trying to get their sleep disorder taken seriously and properly diagnosed by their GP. While we might chuckle to hear of someone who raids the fridge while asleep, only to discover when he had padlocked it to avoid overeating that he had consumed all his parrot’s food in the night, it is not the least bit amusing to read of those who get up, dress and ride a motorbike – all while still asleep.

Following these descriptions, Leschziner lays out the treatment proposed for the particular disorder while noting that detailed knowledge of the brain and the function of sleep are still in their infancy, despite CT scans, Functional MRIs and the like. Gaining some understanding of these extreme disorders – including making aggressive and unwelcome sexual advances to one’s partner – may help readers understand the complexity of sleep and, perhaps, the importance of sleep in terms of overall good health for all of us.

While current research suggests 10% of adults suffer from chronic insomnia, the author argues we should not become obsessed by our sleep patterns – especially those reported by the unsophisticated technology of overly simplistic sleep trackers. The thrust of the author’s argument in this book is that mental and physical health are not binary opposites but part of a holistic whole of wellness and good health, which is how we should view improving our sleep habits.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Distributed by: Simon & Schuster Australia
Released: March 2019
RRP: $39.99

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