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Pinterest Matthew Walker photographed in his sleep lab. One night, however, he read a scientific paper that changed everything. I realised my mistake. I had been measuring the brainwave activity of my patients while they were awake, when I should have been doing so while they were asleep. Sleep, it seemed, could be a new early diagnostic litmus test for different subtypes of dementia. After this, sleep became his obsession. I was always curious, annoyingly so, but when I started to read about sleep, I would look up and hours would have gone by.
No one could answer the simple question: why do we sleep? That seemed to me to be the greatest scientific mystery. I was going to attack it, and I was going to do that in two years. But I was naive. Formerly a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, he is now professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California.
Does his obsession extend to the bedroom? Does he take his own advice when it comes to sleep? I take my sleep incredibly seriously because I have seen the evidence. His problem then, as always in these situations, was that he knew too much. His brain began to race. In the end, it seems, even world experts in sleep act just like the rest of us when struck by the curse of insomnia. He turned on a light and read for a while.
Can too little sleep ruin your relationship? Read more Will Why We Sleep have the impact its author hopes? But what I can tell you is that it had a powerful effect on me. After reading it, I was absolutely determined to go to bed earlier — a regime to which I am sticking determinedly.
In a way, I was prepared for this. But in another way, it was unexpected. I am mostly immune to health advice. The evidence Walker presents, however, is enough to send anyone early to bed. Without sleep, there is low energy and disease. With sleep, there is vitality and health. More than 20 large scale epidemiological studies all report the same clear relationship: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. When your sleep becomes short, moreover, you are susceptible to weight gain. Among the reasons for this are the fact that inadequate sleep decreases levels of the satiety-signalling hormone, leptin, and increases levels of the hunger-signalling hormone, ghrelin.
However, processed food and sedentary lifestyles do not adequately explain its rise. Something is missing. Sleep has a powerful effect on the immune system, which is why, when we have flu, our first instinct is to go to bed: our body is trying to sleep itself well.
Reduce sleep even for a single night, and your resilience is drastically reduced. If you are tired, you are more likely to catch a cold. The well-rested also respond better to the flu vaccine.
As Walker has already said, more gravely, studies show that short sleep can affect our cancer-fighting immune cells. A number of epidemiological studies have reported that night-time shift work and the disruption to circadian sleep and rhythms that it causes increase the odds of developing cancers including breast, prostate, endometrium and colon.
The reasons for this are difficult to summarise, but in essence it has to do with the amyloid deposits a toxin protein that accumulate in the brains of those suffering from the disease, killing the surrounding cells. During deep sleep, such deposits are effectively cleaned from the brain. The loss of deep sleep caused by this assault therefore lessens our ability to remove them from the brain at night. More amyloid, less deep sleep; less deep sleep, more amyloid, and so on. Away from dementia, sleep aids our ability to make new memories, and restores our capacity for learning.
When your mother told you that everything would look better in the morning, she was wise. Here he details the various ways in which the dream state connects to creativity. He also suggests that dreaming is a soothing balm. If we sleep to remember see above , then we also sleep to forget. Deep sleep — the part when we begin to dream — is a therapeutic state during which we cast off the emotional charge of our experiences, making them easier to bear.
Sleep, or a lack of it, also affects our mood more generally. In children, sleeplessness has been linked to aggression and bullying; in adolescents, to suicidal thoughts. Insufficient sleep is also associated with relapse in addiction disorders. A prevailing view in psychiatry is that mental disorders cause sleep disruption. But Walker believes it is, in fact, a two-way street.
Regulated sleep can improve the health of, for instance, those with bipolar disorder. What is it, exactly? Each cycle comprises two kinds of sleep. When Walker talks about these cycles, which still have their mysteries, his voice changes. He sounds bewitched, almost dazed. Researchers were once fooled that this state was similar to a coma. But nothing could be further from the truth. Vast amounts of memory processing is going on. To produce these brainwaves, hundreds of thousands of cells all sing together, and then go silent, and on and on.
Meanwhile, your body settles into this lovely low state of energy, the best blood-pressure medicine you could ever hope for. You need four or five cycles to get all the benefit. This is unclear. But I do think 14 hours is too much. Too much water can kill you, and too much food, and I think ultimately the same will prove to be true for sleep. Walker thinks we should trust our instincts. Those who would sleep on if their alarm clock was turned off are simply not getting enough.
Ditto those who need caffeine in the afternoon to stay awake. Schools should consider later starts for students; such delays correlate with improved IQs. Companies should think about rewarding sleep. Productivity will rise, and motivation, creativity and even levels of honesty will be improved.
Sleep can be measured using tracking devices, and some far-sighted companies in the US already give employees time off if they clock enough of it. Sleeping pills, by the way, are to be avoided.
Among other things, they can have a deleterious effect on memory. That will be a seismic shift, and we will then start to develop methods by which we can amplify different components of human sleep, and do that from the bedside.
Sleep will come to be seen as a preventive medicine. For a while, he is quiet. I would still like to know where we go, psychologically and physiologically, when we dream. Dreaming is the second state of human consciousness, and we have only scratched the surface so far.
But I would also like to find out when sleep emerged. I like to posit a ridiculous theory, which is: perhaps sleep did not evolve. Perhaps it was the thing from which wakefulness emerged. If you drive having had four hours, you are To successfully initiate sleep, your core temperature needs to drop about 1C.
Feel the Night
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