You’re probably tired of hearing political leaders and business leaders brag about how little sleep they get.
But what you might not know is that lack of sleep is very damaging to our body and brain.
Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, explains why you should stop admiring people who sleep poorly.
Walker also wrote “Why We Sleep”, a book that can change (and extend) your life.
It tells you everything you need to know about sleep and how to develop healthier lifestyle habits.
Why sleep is important
All the studies say the same thing: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.
So if you want to live to a ripe old age and stay healthy for as long as possible, you need to invest in a good night’s sleep.
In fact, sleep is so beneficial that Professor Walker started pushing doctors to prescribe it.
However, it has to happen naturally. Many studies link sleeping pills to an increased risk of cancer, infections and death.
What happens to our body and mind if we don’t sleep?
Many illnesses that we suffer from have a significant link with lack of sleep.
For example, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety and even suicide.
Every important physiological system of our body and every network or operation of the mind undergoes a major overhaul during sleep.
If you don’t get enough sleep, they will be seriously affected.
After fifty years of scientific research, the question is no longer “what does sleep do for us?” but “what doesn’t sleep do for us?”.
How much sleep do you need to get to feel good?
You should sleep at least seven to nine hours.
If you sleep less than seven hours, your immune system and cognitive performance begin to suffer.
After being awake for twenty hours, you will be as weak as if you were drunk.
One of the problems with lack of sleep is that you don’t realize at the time the damage it is causing.
Imagine a drunk driver in a bar, who picks up his car keys and says, “I’m fine, I can drive.” But you know he’s not okay, he just thinks he’s okay.
We sleep less and less. Why ?
A clear trend emerges from examining data from industrialized countries: Over the past hundred years, sleep time has decreased.
If we sleep less, we find it more difficult to enter the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle, the one where we dream.
Interrupting sleep is very harmful, as it is crucial for our creativity and essential for our mental health.
There are several reasons why people sleep less and less.
- 1. Lack of knowledge. The scientific community knows how crucial it is to get a good night’s sleep, but so far has failed to let the general public know. Most people don’t understand why sleep is important.
- 2. The rhythm of life. We generally work longer and spend more time getting to and from work. We leave home early in the morning and come home late at night, and naturally we don’t want to miss spending time with family and friends. Being with family, going out with friends, watching television… In the end, it devours our day and we sacrifice hours of sleep.
- 3. Attitudes and beliefs. Sleep is frowned upon by society. If you told someone you slept nine hours, they would probably think you were a slacker. So we stigmatize sleep and many people brag about how little sleep they get each night… No one would think that a sleeping baby is lazy, because we know that sleep is absolutely essential for their development. But this notion changes when we reach adulthood. Not only are we abandoning the idea that sleep is necessary, but we are punishing people who sleep when they need it.
- 4. Lack of natural light. We don’t like being deprived of light when it’s dark. But darkness is needed to release an essential hormone called melatonin that helps us sleep well. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of progress is that we are constantly under artificial light. This phenomenon has worsened with the arrival of LED screens, because they project a powerful blue light which blocks melatonin.
- 5. Temperature. Another unexpected side effect of progress: we no longer know the natural flow of hot and cold during the 24-hour period. We all want warm homes, but we also need a bit of coolness to get a good night’s sleep. Our brain and our body need to reduce this core temperature, by about 1°C less, so that we can relax naturally. Most of us set the heating too high: if you want to sleep well, set your thermostat to 18°C at night.
Now that you’ve seen the mistakes you’re making, can the damage be reversed?
Yes and no: you can’t get back what you’ve lost, but it’s never too late to change your habits and start taking care of yourself.
One of the big misconceptions is that if you haven’t slept well, you can “catch up on sleep.” You can not.
Sleep is not like a bank, where you can accumulate debts and pay them off later.
Yet that’s what many people do: they don’t get enough sleep during the week and try to catch up on the weekends. This is called social jet lag or even sleep binge.
What you can do is change your habits.
Studies show that people who used to sleep poorly, but changed their habits and started sleeping more, avoided degenerative decline and Alzheimer’s disease by more than ten years compared to people who didn’t. have not changed their habits.
But why can’t we store sleep?
Imagine if we could store hours of sleep and use them as we see fit. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
There is a precedent in biology: it is called the fat cell.
Progress has given us the fat cell, thanks to which we can store energy in times of plenty, which allows us to survive in times of famine. The benefits of having nightmares
So why haven’t we developed a similar system for storing sleep?
Because we are the only species that deliberately deprives ourselves of sleep for no apparent reason.
This is why even a single night of bad sleep can affect our body and our brain.