Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for the Not the Wellcome Prize Tour organised by Rebecca Foster of BookishBeck
The official Wellcome Prize is on hiatus this year. This is not the first time that they have done this, but I don’t think that they knew about the pandemic in advance! It is an anxious time for many, and what it shows is that we need books that can talk honestly and truthfully about the science of health and wellbeing and not succumb to the snake oil salesmen.
Here is how the website describes the Prize’s purpose: “a book should have a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness. … At some point, medicine touches all our lives. Books that find stories in those brushes with medicine are ones that add new meaning to what it means to be human. The subjects these books grapple with might include birth and beginnings, illness and loss, pain, memory, and identity. In keeping with its vision and goals, the Wellcome Book Prize aims to excite public interest and encourage debate around these topics.
We have selected 19 books for this tour:
Two of which I am going to be highlighting today.
Chasing the Sun: The New Science of Sunlight and How it Shapes Our Bodies and Minds by Linda Geddes
Since the dawn of time, humans have worshipped the sun. And with good reason.
Our biology is set up to work in partnership with the sun. From our sleep cycles to our immune systems and our mental health, access to sunlight is crucial for living a happy and fulfilling life. New research suggests that our sun exposure over a lifetime – even before we were born – may shape our risk of developing a range of different illnesses, from depression to diabetes.
Bursting with cutting-edge science and eye-opening advice, Chasing the Sun explores the extraordinary significance of sunlight – from ancient solstice celebrations to modern sleep labs, and from the unexpected health benefits of sun exposure to what the Amish know about sleep that the rest of us don’t.
As more of us move into light-polluted cities, spending our days in dim offices and our evenings watching brightly lit screens, we are in danger of losing something vital: our connection to the star that gave us life. It’s a loss that could have far-reaching consequences that we’re only just beginning to grasp.
About the Author
Linda Geddes is a London-based journalist writing about biology, medicine and technology. Born in Cambridge, she graduated from Liverpool University with a first-class degree in Cell Biology. She has worked as both a news editor and reporter for New Scientist magazine, and has received numerous awards for her journalism, including the Association of British Science Writers’ awards for Best Investigative Journalism. She is married with two young children, Matilda and Max.
The sun rises every single day and has done so for the past few billion years. This source of energy has played a pivotal part in the development of life on Earth and not unsurprising, it has been a focus of our collective attention for time immemorial. Many cultures have worshipped it or have tracked its regular path through the heavens and tried to elucidate meaning from it.
As the sun has been a central part of almost all the Earth’s inhabitants, lots of creatures have evolved in tandem with it, including us. Research has shown that the sun is key to our mental well being, sleep, immune systems and circadian rhythms. Too much sun is bad for us as it can cause skin cancers but then so is too little, those that rarely see the sun do not generate enough vitamin D that is essential for their health.
One of the biggest disrupters to our health in the modern day is artificial light. Ever since the light bulb was invented, cheap affordable light has been available to all so we have retreated indoors turning pallid in the glow of the modern screens. Office lighting is a good example. The output from the ceilings lights is fairly poor, you only get a fraction of light, around 200 to 300 lux, which is nothing when you compare it to the amount light on a bright day which can reach around 100,000 lux. All of these effects are cumulative, and if you live in northern Europe, then you are much worse off in winter because of the very short days.
I liked this book a lot, it does what a good popular science book should do, gives you a good overview of the subject and touches on lots of different subjects without becoming too academic. On certain elements, for example, on our body clocks and how to improve lighting for those on shift work, in particular, Geddes explores them in a little more depth. Worth reading.
The Nocturnal Brain: Nightmares, Neuroscience, and the Secret World of Sleep by Guy Leschziner
For Dr Guy Leschziner’s patients, there is no rest for the weary in mind and body. Insomnia, narcolepsy, night terrors, sleep apnea, and sleepwalking are just a sampling of conditions afflicting sufferers who cannot sleep–and their experiences in trying are the stuff of nightmares. Demoniac hallucinations frighten people into paralysis. Restless legs rock both the sleepless and their sleeping partners with unpredictable and uncontrollable kicking. Out-of-sync circadian rhythms confuse the natural body clock’s days and nights.
Then there are the extreme cases. A woman in a state of deep sleep who gets dressed, unlocks her car, and drives for several miles before returning to bed. The man who has spent decades cleaning out kitchens while “sleep-eating.” The teenager prone to the serious, yet unfortunately nicknamed “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome” stuck in a cycle of excessive unconsciousness, binge eating, and uncharacteristic displays of aggression and hyper-sexuality while awake.
With compassionate stories of his patients and their conditions, Dr Leschziner illustrates the neuroscience behind our sleeping minds, revealing the many biological and psychological factors necessary in getting the rest that will not only maintain our physical and mental health but improve our cognitive abilities and overall happiness.
About the Author
Guy Leschziner is a consultant neurologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals in London, where he leads the Sleep Disorders Centre, one of the largest sleep services in Europe, and a reader in neurology at King’s College London. He also works at London Bridge and Cromwell Hospitals. Alongside his clinical work, he is the presenter of the Mysteries of Sleep series on BBC Radio 4, is editor of the forthcoming Oxford Specialist Handbook of Sleep Medicine (OUP), and is Neurology Section editor for the next edition of Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine (Elsevier)
Thankfully I have never had any issues in sleeping. I put my head on the pillow and almost always I am asleep within a few minutes. I sleep deeply too, I missed the entire Great Storm in 1987 and was totally oblivious to a massive lightning storm that struck an oak tree opposite where I lived. My father has always called it a short course in death…
Sleep is essential to our health, but no one can say with any conviction exactly why we need it. If we are sleep deprived then there is a finite time that we can survive, hence why it is used as a form of torture. So what happens to our brain at night? A lot of what we can learn about the brain when it is resting is by studying those that struggle with all manner of sleep-related issues.
Guy Leschzineris well placed to explain these sleep issues as he is the head of the Sleep Disorders Centre at Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Hospitals. In this book, he explains the various types of disorders that he has come across, such as sleepwalking, apnoea, night terrors and narcolepsy through the stories of the people that he has met and treated. Some of the things that these people have to suffer sound horrendous, paralysis, tremors and hallucinations for example. The story of a lady who would wake in the middle of the night and drive around whilst asleep and be utterly unaware what she was doing is terrifying.
This book by Leschziner is a fine addition to the discussion and understanding of this little-understood habit that we have to undertake every day for our health. His compassionate writing about the people that he is treating will help those that have been suffering from insomnia and other sleeping disorders to understand that they are not alone. There are several books out there now about sleeping. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker is a really good explanation of why we need sleep and this accessible book is a fine addition to the knowledge of sleep.
Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour. There are quite a few of them! Follow the hashtag on Twitter too, #NotTheWellcomePrize.
The shadow panel (Annabel, Clare, Laura, Rebecca and myself) will choose a shortlist of six titles to be announced on 4 May. We will then vote to choose a winner, with the results of a Twitter poll serving as one additional vote. The Not the Wellcome Prize winner will be announced on 11 May.
Buy these at your local independent bookshop if possible. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here
Follow the authors and publishers on Social Media:
Chasing the Sun by Linda Geddes
published by @ProfileBooks
The Nocturnal Brain by Guy Leschziner
published by Simon & Schuster UK