If you have problems sleeping you should read The Sleep Solution — Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It by Dr. Chris Winter. Most nights my sleep is “fragmented” — meaning that more nights than I like, I frequently wake up and when I wake up I experience problems getting back to sleep. Dr. Winter’s book helped me understand why my sleeping pattern was broken and what I need to do to improve the quality my sleep.
The Sleep Solution
Dr. Winter’s book is much needed, especially for those of us in search of better sleep. I have read many blog articles on sleep and, for the most part, I find them repetitive and uninformative. They tell you that your health is at risk if you do not sleep or, that you need a certain number of hours of sleep per night, and finally that you should sleep in a dark, cool room and not take your computer or iPhone to bed with you.
The problem is that the people who read these articles usually have sleep problems, often follow all of these guidelines and still cannot sleep. The reader is left with a sense of failure and anxiety — which furthers the sleeping problem!
Dr. Winter’s Approach
Dr. Winter does not take this approach. He insists that you read the book from beginning to end so that you learn the basics of sleep and understand what is happening to your sleep. Instead of simple and obvious rules, he challenges the reader with two facts.
First, many of us dysfunctional sleepers insist that they do not sleep and have not slept for years. How can that be true? If, every night, you did not sleep, you would likely be dead but you are here and very much awake.
Second, we have an emotional relationship with our sleep and most of the problems we have with sleep stems when we have a dysfunctional relationship with our sleep. (Sleep problems cause by physical issues such as apnea are different from emotional issues). As a result, Dr. Winter encourages the reader to come to terms with this relationship and make it work.
A Reference Guide for Sleep Disorders
Dr. Winter has treated thousands of patients for various sleep disorders. You can tell that he spends a significant amount of his time educating patients on the basics of sleep and that this book was written as a reference guide for his patients. We are fortunate that he published the book and made it available to you and I, the general public. For a modest price, you can access much of the information he shares with individual patients.
In The Sleep Solution, Dr. Winter achieves the following:
- Delivers a comprehensive explanation of how sleep works. He covers the stages of sleep and why they matter, how circadian rhythms work, and the chemical foundations of wakefulness and sleepiness and how the two states compete with each other to keep you awake or put you to sleep.
- Addresses many of the myths and misunderstanding about sleep that confuse many of us with sleep problems and the physicians who treat people with sleep problems.
- Clarifies the difference between sleep deprivation and insomnia. This is one of the most important parts of the book.
- Asks the difficult questions about their sleep and challenges many of their beliefs. I feel that this discussion is one of the most important contributions of this book. The better understanding you have of your sleep behaviour, the greater the chance that you will fix your sleep problems.
- Presents the latest research available on sleep and, where pieces are missing, he fills in with his own informed opinions.
A Sense of Humour
One more thing before I cover the book in more detail: Dr. Winter presents the material in a friendly and accessible manner. He is self deprecating and has a goofy sense of humour. Here is a gem from the chapter on snoring and apnea:
“When I turned thirty, I remember Ames (his wife) telling me that if I rolled over on my back, I sawed some logs. For years, like most men who come to my clinic, I assumed my wife was lying. Everyone knows that women have nothing better to do than to accompany their husbands to doctors’ appointments and make up stories about their spouses’ breathing at night.”
Introduction to Sleep Medicine
The Sleep Solution is broken into two major sections. The first section is an introduction to sleep medicine and the second section (after an “intermission”) addresses sleep problems and how to deal with them.
Dr. Winter provides a thorough explanation of sleep in the first section of the book. By now most of us know that sleep is important to our health and that poor sleep can detrimentally affect our heart, mood, immune system, and brain, can lead to weight gain, and has been linked to cancer. He covers each of these issues but, thankfully, he does not overdo the message.
On the other hand, he does point out several important new findings from recent research on sleep and the brain. For example, in 2015, University of Helsinki researchers Antoine Louveau and Aleksanteri Aspelund found that the brain has a system for removing waste called the glymphatic system (1). This system is 60% more productive when we sleep as compared to when we are awake. Removal of waste products in the brain plays an important role in long term cognitive well-being.
Sleep is Essential and Will Happen
Sleep is essential to our survival. Dr. Winter points out that our brain insists that we sleep. Eventually, no matter how poor the quality of your sleep or how sleep deprived you are, you will fall asleep. You might find the road to sleep to be a rocky one, but sleep is something that happens to all of us (even Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards).
Dr Winter points out that most people he sees do not grasp this simple concept. Many insist that they “haven’t slept in years.”. Really? You might have restless nights, you might not like the quality of your sleep, but you do sleep.
Some individuals, on the other hand, are sleep deprived. People who work night shifts are often sleep deprived. There are sleep tests that allow you to determine if you are sleep deprived and Dr. Winter provides several in the book. I completed several of these self-assessments and learned that I do, in fact, sleep at night. I just need to work on improving the quality of my sleep.
This book made me think about the difference between sleep deprivation, being fatigued, and poor sleep. Understanding these differences is essential to understanding he sleep remedies described later in the book.
The chapter entitled Sleep Stages delivers an excellent overview of the structure of sleep and why it is important that your transition between the different sleep stages in the correct order. I appreciated the explanation of the different sleep stages when, later in the book, Dr. Winter discusses sleep studies. During a sleep study, the sleep technician generates a reading of your sleep pattern called a polysomnogram. I was able to leverage my learning from the Sleep Stages chapter to interpret the output from a polysomnogram.
How to Treat Sleep Problems
Once you have a firm understanding of your sleep, Dr Winter moves onto how to treat sleep problems. This is the second section of the book. Like many sleep specialists he discusses the importance of sleep hygiene. He also covers treating insomnia, sleep schedules, napping, snoring, apnea, sleep medications, sleep studies, sleep efficiency, sleeping aids and other sleep conditions.
I have read several books on sleeping, including Say Goodnight to Insomnia by Dr. Gregg Jacobs, and feel that The Sleep Solution is the most comprehensive, practical, pragmatic and realistic of them all.
As well as tips, self assessments and directions, it includes a number of surprises. For example, I was surprised to learn in the chapter on sleep medications that the most common sleep medication prescribed by physicians is not even a sleep medication! It is an FDA approved anti-depressant: Trazadone.
I found this disconcerting. As Dr. Winter points out in The Sleep Solution: “There is no real literature supporting their [anti-depressants] off-label use in helping patients fall asleep faster or even stay asleep. To me, these drugs epitomize the haphazard, misinformed, and dangerous practices of some doctors who do not understand sleep or how to treat it.”
Where to Purchase
You can purchase The Sleep Solution on Amazon in paperback. Please note I receive small commission from Amazon if you purchase the book.
About Dr. Chris Winter
Dr. Winter is a physician, a board certified sleep-medicine specialist, and a board-certified neurologist. He has been involved in sleep medicine and sleep research since 1993 and is the owner of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine clinic in Charlottesville, Virginia where he has been practising sleep medicine since 2004.
Dr. Winter has done the poor sleepers of the world a great service with the publication of the book, The Sleep Solution. I encourage you to read it so that you can learn more about your sleep and how to make it better.
The Sleep Solution is now available on Amazon in paperback.
- Aspelund, et al. A dural lymphatic vascular system that drains brain interstitial fluid and macromolecules. Journal of Experimental Medicine, 29 June 2015. 212(7): 991
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