Why We Sleep is a ridiculously valuable book for anyone who doesn’t sleep much on a consistent basis. Whether that’s due to insomnia or to being a total badass who thinks that sleep is for the weak and lazy.
Matthew is someone we should listen to. He’s professor of of neuroscience and psychology at UCLA and before that he was a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He also works as a sleep scientist at Google Life Sciences (Verily)
The main takeaways from Why We Sleep
- Consistent sleep deprivation is really, really bad for you. By sleep deprivation, he means anything less than a solid 8 hours of sleep. Walker links consistent sleep deprivation to cancer, dementia, obesity depression, and anxiety. Also, the shorter you sleep, the shorter you live. All in all, really, really bad.
- We have a chemical called adenosine that is continually produced from the moment we wake up. It builds and builds throughout the day until we can resist sleep no longer. This is called sleep pressure.
- Caffeine blocks the receptors that register the adenosine build up and this is why coffee temporarily makes us feel more awake and alert. If caffeine is still in your system at bedtime, it will likely keep you from feeling tired.
- Caffeine has an average half life of 5 to 7 hours. This means that 5 to 7 hours after your last coffee, half the caffeine is still left in your system. And in 10-14 after your last coffee, a quarter of that caffeine is still in your system.
- Drink less caffeine! And definitely not too late i.e. not after 12pm
Professor Walker’s top 12 tips for getting a better night’s sleep
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Get up and go to be at the same time every day. Walker highlights this as the most important of his sleep tips.
- Exercise is great. At least 30 mins most days and not too close to bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine. They make it hard to get to sleep and can affect how deeply you do sleep.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. It will stop you getting into REM sleep and you may wake up in the middle of the night when the effects have worn off.
- Avoid large meals and drinks late at night. This can cause indigestion which interferes with sleep.
- Avoid medicines that disrupt your sleep
- No naps after 3pm.
- Relax and unwind before bed like reading or listening to music
- Take a hot bath before bed
- Dark, cool, gadget-free bedroom
- Get enough sunlight exposure. This helps regulate sleep patterns. At least 30 mins of natural sunlight each day and preferably in the morning. Turn down the lights before bedtime.
- Don’t lie in bed awake.
For me, the caffeine control has been incredible in helping me get more sleep.
Walker describes sleep deprivation as:
the greatest public health challenge we face in the 21st century in developed nations. If we wish to avoid the suffocating noose of sleep neglect, the premature death it inflicts, and the sickening health it invites, a radical shift in our personal, cultural, professional, and societal appreciation of sleep must occur.
I believe it is time for us to reclaim our right to a full night of sleep, without embarrassment or the damaging stigma of laziness. In doing so, we can be reunited with that most powerful elixir of wellness and vitality, dispensed through every conceivable biological pathway. then we may remember what it feels like to be truly awake during the day, infused with the very deepest plentitude of being.
Pick up a copy of Why We Sleep here.
Get more sleep!