There is something of the English north-west in the Bay Area’s cement-coloured dome of a sky, and in Matthew Walker’s accent, too. The rest of him is purest California. A lateral sweep of blond hair suggests retired surfer or head stylist at a price-gouging salon. His actual job, professor of neuroscience and psychology at Berkeley, could be a heartland demagogue’s cliché of West Coast employment. Then there is the air of willing exile from someplace else. “I thought I would do a two-year post-doctorate position in America and solve the question of why we sleep,” he says, about his departure from Britain. “That was 18 years ago.” We are either side of a corner table at Saul’s in Berkeley, the kind of teeming and unpretentious neighbourhood deli that might anchor a 1990s sitcom. On a very wipeable-looking harlequin-pattern floor, black-liveried staff tend to a multi-generational clientèle drawn from local residential streets called things such as Cedar and Scenic. Even before Walker ...

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