Posted by: cochinblogger | March 30, 2012

A Mystery Sentence in the Sleep Book

The sleep book (Counting Sheep: The Science and Pleasures of Sleep and Dreams) has been occupying a lot of my waking hours, and who knows, I may even be dreaming about it. My father chanced upon it on my bed one day and remarked in amazement, “An entire book on sleep?!” Popular nonfiction has made amazing strides over the past few decades, and I for one have read little else since my college years. I know that’s a short-sighted policy, but there are so many fascinating nonfiction narratives and memoirs available these days that I hardly miss fiction.

The sleep book must have required a staggering amount of research, as Paul Martin mixes and matches science, history, psychology, culture, and literature to conjure up a heady brew, chapter after chapter. The writing is fluid and simple, and one is borne lightly along from sentence to sentence and page to page. I have only admiration for anyone who can take a complex subject such as sleep, research and amass the source material, cull and prune, and then structure the raw material into a form that is digested so effortlessly by a layperson such as myself.

However, the purpose of this post is to report one sentence in this otherwise impeccably written book that brought me to a grinding halt. Here is the paragraph with the offending sentence:

Another reason why old people sleep badly is that they tend to be more sensitive to noise. The minimum amount of noise that is required to wake someone decreases substantially between early adulthood and later middle age. This greater sensitivity to noise is most apparent during slow-wave sleep, which is the type of sleep that declines most in old age.

Do you see what I see? The last sentence does not hang together. If old people are more sensitive to noise and slow-wave sleep is the type of sleep that is most sensitive to noise, surely that is the type of sleep that should increase (and not decline) most in old age? In fact, elsewhere it is stated that slow-wave sleep does decline during old age, so that appears to be established fact. It hardly seems possible that “a greater sensitivity to noise” can be “most apparent” during slow-wave sleep, the most refreshing and deepest form of sleep. Only the author can clear up this mystery.

Unless I’m missing something obvious, this is a logical error that slipped past the copyeditor.


  1. It doesn’t make sense to me either. I think the author’s trying to say that the greater sensitivity to noise in old age happens because slow-wave sleep declines, or at least that there’s a connection between the two. Good catch!

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