Book Review: Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival by T.S. Wiley

April 26, 2012

Lights OUt

I read Lights Out – Sleep, Sugar and Survival (by T.S. Wiley with Brent Formby) because Robb Wolf kept relentlessly quoting it in his podcasts:

“Sleep as much as you can without getting divorced or fired.”

To which Robb has added:

“And if either the job sucks or the marriage is dodgy, then maybe those are worth shelving.”

With an endorsement like that, how could I not read the book? And I’m glad I did. Everyone knows that sleep is important. But this book permanently drills it into your head. I’m not saying that I now never go to bed late anymore, but I do definitely take the subject of sleep more seriously. And I’ve been making a more conscious and sustained effort to get more zzz’s. This has never been a huge problem for me, as I’m not much of a night owl, but I do like to be productive well into the evenings, so the book was a worthwhile reality check.

If you read reviews of this book, a lot of people complain about the way it’s been written. I’ve read that the reason for any sub-optimal writing is that they switched editors or something halfway through and so it’s a little disjointed. Honestly, it may not be a work of literary art, but I wasn’t bothered by it in the slightest. The information was there, and the message was loud and clear. And it was presented in a humorous, easy to read format.

It was cool to read a non-paleo book that jives so much with the paleo lifestyle and diet (“there are no bread trees or pasta bushes”). Although I don’t really get why they push coffee so much in a book that’s concerned with adrenal fatigue. Luckily they also encourage water, “the original beverage.” The books’ topics extend beyond sleep to all the interrelated aspects of health, including diet, hormones, exercise, etc.

The book’s message, in a nutshell: artificial lighting past normal hours of daylight is confusing our brains into thinking we’re in the long days of summer, during which we’d be fattening up for the winter months of famine ahead. The problem is we just end up craving and thus consuming copious carbohydrates, and layering on the fat, but “winter” never comes because these carbohydrates are available year-round.

The conventional response of exercise to fight off weight gain only causes more problems, since it just stresses your body out and causes your cortisol receptors to burnout. The resulting message being sent to your body is: “Oh, my God, a famine’s coming and there’s a tiger chasing me!!” Not a good scenario.

Lights Out really drives home the importance of getting enough sleep, in a dark cave-like room. The recommendation is to sleep as many hours as you would in nature according to seasonal light exposure. This translates to a minimum of 9.5 hours for 6-7 months of the year. They recommend transitioning to this new sleep schedule gradually, getting up as close to dawn as possible, and keeping the lights “romantically” low after dark.

If you’re wondering where the magic 9.5 hours came from:

“The NIH research we’ve cited concludes that six hours of prolactin production in the dark is the minimum necessary to maintain immune function like T cell and beneficial killer-cell production. But you can’t get six hours of prolactin secretion on six hours of sleep a night; it takes at least three and a half hours of melatonin secretion before you ever even see prolactin.”

As for people worried about the implications of sleeping away your evenings:

Q. Will this affect your social life?

A. Yes, but so will obesity and cancer.

Have you read Lights Out? Are you getting as much sleep as you should?

Shared with Healthy Home Economist, Fight Back Fridays and Real Food Wednesdays.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Paleo Suz April 27, 2012 at 1:36 AM

I liked this book so much – I had a few late nights to finish it – oh the irony!


[email protected] April 27, 2012 at 9:52 AM

I was pondering that irony while staying up to finish my post last night :p


Aaron April 27, 2012 at 4:37 PM

I have the book on my shelf, but every time I think to pull it out I decide just to go to bed instead.

I’m one of the few. I get plenty of good sleep, and let me just say this – it is NOT overrated.


[email protected] April 27, 2012 at 6:00 PM

Well, if every time you reach for the book you go to bed instead, then the book’s serving it’s purpose :)


emmy June 8, 2012 at 1:17 AM

My husband sleeps usually around 5 hours.
Life is too short to count hours and go to bed in time. if he reads,watches races,tour the France till 2 am or cycles on line + stories about cycling ….he is fresh when he wakes anf puts in a fysical hard days work . He is 66 and very Fit for his age ;
cycles 2000km in 3 weeks in Asia: heat and mountains included . he sleeps 6 hours
when he is touring.
If he goes to sleep at 10 pm ,he is awake at 2 ,up for hours and back to bed.
Are there no exceptions on this rule of 8 and more hours sleep ?
I ve hardly ever slept 8 hours in my life also. 6 hours and I am awake .and when i can t sleep any more after 4 hours ,I do not feel tired and than sleep 7 hours the next night ????
Looking forwards to your response .


[email protected] June 8, 2012 at 3:54 PM

You gotta do what makes you feel good and healthy. I’m sure there are people who function fine in less than 8 hours. However, I have to question the long term implications. Sleeping so few hours doesn’t seem to align with how many hours our ancestors got. When the lights went out, they’d go to sleep. I wonder if your sleep cycle is a pattern you’ve grown accustomed to. It takes a while for our bodies to get used to more or less sleep. I’m also concerned about your husband’s cycling – such an amount, especially at that level (hills and all) would fall squarely into “chronic cardio”, which combined with such little sleep might not bode well in the long run, as it’s a real stress on you’re system with littler relatively little down time. Perhaps you could do some more research on sleep (reading the book would be a good start) and on “chronic cardio” (mark sisson is a great resource as he used to be an athlete) and see what conclusions you arrive at. Good luck with your journey :)


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