The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep by Lawrence Epstein and Steven Mardon

The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep by Lawrence Epstein and Steven Mardon is one of the best books I’ve read if you’re looking for an intermediate-level look on the importance of sleep.

Coming in at over 2,900 words, the book highlights I’ve chosen below should give you a general understanding of the level of the book. If you’re looking for an easier introduction into the field of sleep research (as I was), consider reading Sleep: A Very Short Introduction by Steven W. Lockley and Russell G. Foster, before coming back around and diving in this book.

Here are my collected highlights:

Proper sleep plays a large role in maintaining health, promoting learning, performing at top proficiency, and sustaining emotional well-being.

Anything we devote a third of our lives to must be important.

Sleep is a complex undertaking, requiring numerous pathways through multiple parts of the brain.

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Putting Ourselves Together Every Day

Every morning we go through a very personal routine to put ourselves together. We have perfected this routine throughout our lives. We know each part of the routine intimately.

We recognise our different pairs of socks. They may not be in any way special to us, but we could pick them out in a laundry bin full of others. We know our different pairs of socks intimately, yet the people we see each and every day couldn’t recognise a pair of our socks from one day to the next.

Next, we spend some time with our favourite mug. Our mug doesn’t enter into our consciousness throughout our day, but in that moment, we’re aware that it’s a great mug. We look at the other mugs in our kitchen in disgust. “You’ll never hold my tea”, you think. “You’ll never be my favourite.”

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Freakonomics by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt

I hugely enjoy the Freakonomics podcast. I can’t remember how long I’ve been listening, and I certainly can’t remember when I read either the first Freakonomics book, or its followup SuperFreakonomics, but my memory’s not on trial here (thank god).

Here are my collected highlights from the first book:

Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work—whereas economics represents how it actually does work. Economics is above all a science of measurement.

Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life. And understanding them—or, often, ferreting them out—is the key to solving just about any riddle, from violent crime to sports cheating to online dating.

The conventional wisdom is often wrong. Crime didn’t keep soaring in the 1990s, money alone doesn’t win elections, and—surprise— drinking eight glasses of water a day has never actually been shown to do a thing for your health. Conventional wisdom is often shoddily formed and devilishly difficult to see through, but it can be done.

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A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

I read the majority of Ernest Hemingway’s famed memoir A Moveable Feast while sitting in Eastern Bakery at 720 Grant, San Francisco; one of the oldest Chinese bakeries in North America.

Part of the reason I stayed so long was because I’d eaten so many pork buns that, frankly, I’m amazed I left there alive. The other part of the reason is because Hemingway’s memoir is just, well, fascinating. It’s all over the place, and certain parts weren’t as interesting as others, but on the whole it was a (short) joy to read.

Here are my collected notes:

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.

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Procrastinate Smart

For somebody who harps on about productivity as much as I do, I’m insanely good at procrastinating.

We all say this of course, followed by a laugh about how lazy we all are, but seriously. If I have one thing I need to be getting on with, I’ll do everything else in the world to avoiding doing what I need to do.

While going through my most recent spell of looking at what I needed to do, followed by four Instagram refreshes and a quick check on the news, I noticed that in-between these distractions I was working on something that I didn’t need to work on at that moment, but it needed to get done.

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The Perfect Sleep Environment

We’ve heard it must exist, but the perfect sleeping environment still eludes most of us despite our best efforts.

Though the simplicity of the three areas I’ll cover is clear, I’ve gone into some detail on each. If you decide to use any of the recommendations I’ve written of I’d suggest you only make a couple of changes at a time.

There are hundreds of reasons why you may be struggling to sleep that are unrelated to your sleep environment (such as the movements of your bed partner, drinking alcohol before bed, or an uncomfortable mattress), but if these haven’t presented themselves it’s your duty to yourself to deal with your environmental factors first.

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How to Nap (Deliberately)

If you wake up groggy after napping you’re probably doing it wrong.

Afternoon fatigue is a real problem; a problem that can cause us to dose ourselves with as much caffeine as possible as the inevitable decline of our day plays out. Your body is craving sleep. The solution to afternoon fatigue simple: feed your body’s desire, don’t cover it up.

Napping has gained a resurgence in popularity in recent years but it remains an area that’s largely frowned upon, rather than something that’s celebrated as the rejuvenating method of upping your per-day productivity it is.

But you can’t go into this with your eyes closed (if you’ll excuse the pun). You have to be deliberate about when you nap, why you nap, and for how long you nap. The most useful naps, after all, depend on what you (the napper) need.

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Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

Needless to say, I loved this book. I read Daily Rituals by Mason Currey last year, and despite it’s similarity to My Morning Routine, I can say with all honesty that we were unaware of it (Daily Rituals was originally a blog) when we created the site.

Honestly, I wish I’d thought of writing this book. It’s so simple, yet so excellently curated and pieced together. Here are my highlights:

My underlying concerns in the book are issues that I struggle with in my own life: How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living? Is it better to devote yourself wholly to a project or to set aside a small portion of each day? And when there doesn’t seem to be enough time for all you hope to accomplish, must you give things up (sleep, income, a clean house), or can you learn to condense activities, to do more in less time, to “work smarter, not harder,” as my dad is always telling me?

“Sooner or later,” Pritchett writes, “the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.”

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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

After sitting on my shelf for over five years, I finally got around to reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey a little over a year ago.

Going through my book highlights over the last couple of weeks, I chose out some of my favourites, which I’ll share with you below:

I began to feel more and more that much of the success literature of the past fifty years was superficial. It was filled with social image consciousness, techniques and quick fixes—with social Band-Aids and aspirin that addressed acute problems and sometimes even appeared to solve them temporarily, but left the underlying chronic problems untouched to fester and resurface time and again.

In stark contrast, almost all the literature in the first 150 years or so focused on what could be called the Character Ethic as the foundation of success—things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, and modesty.

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The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton

Having previously only read Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety (notes coming soon), The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work provided a bucket-load of takeaways that I was left pondering for days:

We too are never more than one hard slam away from a definitive end to our carefully arranged ideas and copious involvement with ourselves.

In an ideal Paretan economy, jobs would be ever more finely subdivided to allow for the accumulation of complex skills, which would then be traded among workers. It would be in everyone’s best interest that doctors not waste time learning how to fix boilers, that train drivers not sew clothes for their children.

In a perfect society, so specialised would all jobs be, that no one would any longer understand what anyone else was doing.

When does a job feel meaningful? Whenever it allows us to generate delight or reduce suffering in others.

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