Have you ever thought about why getting enough sleep is so important?
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when a family member was committed to hospital after a frightening episode of paranoia that I was painfully educated on the importance of sleep.
While it was a culmination of things that triggered this episode, a severe lack of sleep was what pushed this person over the edge.
If I was asked to describe the epitome of physical health (prior to what I know now), nutrition and exercise would immediately come to mind. Sleep, on the other hand… it might not have even made the top 5.
Having witnessed the nightmares that sleep deprivation can ironically manifest, sleep is not something I’m prepared to sacrifice lightly, and I doubt it’s something you’ll want to sacrifice after familiarising yourself with the facts.
Fortunately, I’m pretty good at sleeping, so it’s never been an issue for me, but this certainly isn’t the case for everyone.
Hopefully, the following facts and tips, extracted from Joe Rogan’s interview with Matthew Walker, will be the wakeup call you need to modify your bedtime habits and make sleep a priority (if you don’t already do so).
I also highly, highly recommend that you listen to the entire podcast (episode #1109 on The Joe Rogan Experience).
- We should be getting between 7-9 hours of sleep.
- Sleep is the greatest, most natural “performance enhancing drug” that most people neglect.
Forget the old adage you can sleep when you’re dead because in reality, sleep predicts all causes of mortality, including cancer, alzheimer's, diabetes and heart disease.
- During REM sleep, your cardiovascular system goes through dramatic periods of acceleration and deceleration. Your brain paralyses your body so that your mind can dream safely.
- When we lose an hour of sleep due to Daylight Savings, there is a 24% increase in heart attacks. When we gain the hour back, there is a 21% decrease in heart attacks.
- A lack of sleep costs most nations 2% of their GDP.
- Contrary to popular opinion, there is no such thing as a sleep bank.
The reality of sleep deprivation
- Your time to physical exhaustion drops by 30% on 6 hours of sleep or less.
- Your ability to expire carbon dioxide and inhale oxygen decreases which subsequently impacts physical performance.
- Peak muscle strength, physical vertical jump height and peak running speed correlate with sleep. The less that you have, the worse those outcomes are.
- Injury risk increases by 60% on less than 7 hours sleep.
- 70% of all the weight you lose will come from lean body mass (muscle) and not fat, because your body becomes stingy in giving up fat when you are underslept.
- Insufficient sleep across the lifespan is one of the most significant lifestyle factors determining whether or not you’ll develop alzheimer's.
- Insufficient sleep is strongly correlated with poor food choices.
- Lack of sleep increases the hunger hormone, ghrelin, which triggers a state of alertness and the ancient hunter gatherer instinct.
- When you’ve been awake for 20 hours, you are as impaired cognitively if you were legally drunk.
- Your cognitive performance takes a significant nosedive after 7 days of 6 hours sleep.
- The prefrontal cortex (CEO of the brain) is the first to go when you are sleep deprived. This means that the deep emotional centers of the brain that is usually controlled and kept in check by the prefrontal cortex, erupt in terms of their activity and you revert back to an almost childlike state. Your ability to regulate your emotions is severely compromised in this state.
- 1 night of 4 hours sleep causes a 70% reduction in anti-cancer fighting immune cells. These are natural killer cells that target malignant cells.
- Lack of REM sleep can induce a state of delirium.
- Lack of sleep erodes your DNA.
Benefits of a good night's sleep
- You replay what you’ve learned at a speed that is 20x faster when you are asleep.
- Sleep finds those problem points/gaps in your motor skills and smoothes it out, which means practice alone doesn’t make you perfect. It’s the combination of practice and sleep that advances your skill.
- Studies have shown a 20-30% improvement in motor skill performance after a night of sleep.
- REM sleep stimulates the areas of your brain that assist with learning and making or retaining memories.
- “Sleep on it” is valid advice when you need to solve a complex problem or make an important decision.
- Sleep before learning helps prepare your brain for the initial formation of memories
- Sleep after learning is essential to save and solidify that new information into the architecture of the brain.
- Deep sleep clears out the toxins and debris out of your brain.
- Deep sleep regulates insulin levels and blood glucose levels.
Factors impacting sleep quality
- The invasion of light into the home (screens, lights) can suppress the hormone melatonin which tells your brain when it’s dark and when it’s time to sleep. The exposure to light tricks your brain into thinking that it’s daytime.
- 1 hour of iPad reading delays the release of melatonin by 3 hours and impacts the amount of REM sleep you receive and overall sleep quality.
- Drinking alcohol blocks REM sleep which is why you often don’t feel refreshed after a big night.
- When you’re sleeping in a foreign environment, your body doesn’t always enter deep sleep. Melatonin supplements can be used to alleviate jet lag and help you adjust to different time zones.
- Keep it regular. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time.
- Switch off the lights. Darkness is the key to producing melatonin. In the last hour before bed, switch off at least half the lights in your house and keep screen time to a minimum.
- Keep it cool. Your brain needs to drop its temperature by 2-3 degrees farenheit before it can sleep. This explains why it’s easier to sleep in colder weather. A warm bath can even assist because the thermal heat (from the bath) evacuates from your body, causing your core body temperature to plummet when you exit the tub.
While nutrition and exercise have long been touted as the primary pillars of good health, sleep is actually the foundation upon which diet and exercise sit. As Matthew Walker put it, "sleep is the elixir of life." And it's free, so start taking advantage of this powerful and all-natural biological state.