Sleep — we all do it, but do we truly understand its depth and significance? Dr. Matthew Walker’s groundbreaking book, “Why We Sleep,” delves into the transformative power of sleep. I discovered it through Michael Pollan’s book about Caffeine. Here’s a blog summarizing the mysteries of our nightly escapade and its profound impact on every facet of our existence. If you like this summary I really suggest you read the full book, or listen to it, like I did.
Why is Sleep So Crucial for your performance?
Cognitive Functioning and Memory
- Sleep is essential for memory consolidation. During deep NREM sleep, our brain processes and transfers new memories into long-term storage.
- REM sleep fosters creativity, helping our brains connect unrelated ideas in novel ways.
Emotional Well-being and Mental Health
- Sleep regulates our emotions. Without adequate REM sleep, our amygdala — the brain’s emotional center — becomes hyperactive, leading to heightened emotional reactions.
- Chronic sleep deprivation is linked with anxiety, depression, and even suicidal tendencies.1
- Sleep deprivation affects the heart, with studies showing an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Lack of sleep can cause weight gain, impacting hunger hormones like leptin and ghrelin2.
- Sleeping less than 6-7 hours a night demolishes your immune system, doubling the risk of cancer3.
- Sleep deprivation impairs judgment. Fatigue-related accidents, both on roads and at workplaces, are often more disastrous than alcohol-related ones4.
Why Don’t We Sleep Enough?
Modern life is conspiring against sleep. Electronic screens emit blue light that hinders melatonin production, our natural sleep-promoting hormone. Caffeine and alcohol, though seemingly benign or even sleep-inducing, actually disrupt our sleep cycles.
How Can We Sleep Better?
- Regularity: Stick to a schedule. I personally want to be in bed by 11 p.m. and I wake up without alarm at 06:30.
- Environment: Ensure a dark, cool, gadget-free, and screen-free bedroom5. I charge my phone in the next room. It is close enough for my Bluetooth headphones, so I can listen to a book or podcast before sleeping.
- Limit Caffeine and Alcohol: Especially in the evening6. I rarely drink alcohol anymore, and I don’t miss it a bit. I like the taste of coffee, so I drink one around 10 a.m. and then I stop.
- Mind Your Diet: Avoid large meals before bedtime. Your body often confuses hunger with a lack of sleep. Sleep could be the better solution to cravings. I try to eat early, just after my workout. But my agenda doesn’t always allow it.
- Morning Sunlight: Natural light helps regulate our internal clock. I try to eat my breakfast outside. And during wintertime, when the days are short, make a morning walk at work.
Conclusion: Sleep is the best investment in Performance
Dr. Matthew Walker’s “Why We Sleep” isn’t just a book; it’s a wake-up call (pun intended). The lack of sleep, once seen as a badge of honor, is now recognized as possibly the greatest public health challenge we face in the 21st century7. It might be an important cause of the obesity pandemic. I personally put sleep at the forefront of my priorities, for well-being, productivity, and overall quality of life. And it works.
Footnotes and references
- https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-023-37921-4 ↩︎
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18517032/ ↩︎
- https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/09/220921104752.htm ↩︎
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1739867/ ↩︎
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4734149/ ↩︎
- https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/caffeine-and-sleep ↩︎
- https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_walker_sleep_is_your_superpower ↩︎