Scientists discovered a revolutionary method that makes you live longer, empowers your memory and boosts your creativity. It makes you look prettier, keeps you slim and you’ll eat less. It protects you against cancer, dementia, cardiovascular diseases and keeps the flu away. It lowers your chances on getting heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. You’ll be more happy, feel less depressed and less worried. Would you like to try it?
This quote comes from the book Why We Sleep. The author Matthew Walker is a sleep scientist and lists the devastating consequences of getting less than 7 to 9 hours of sleep, every day. It is so much worse than you might have thought. We’re basically all killing ourselves slowly.
The Western world is in the grip of a massive sleep deprivation epidemic. Being just an hour short on sleep a day will do serious damage to your immune system immediately, and increases the chances to get all type of horrible diseases on the long term, including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
It also destroys your emotional intelligence, your memory and your creativity. It makes you eat more, so you’ll gain weight. And it is closely linked to ADHD for children and Alzheimer’s disease for elderly.
This book is really scary, but you should definitely read it. We set up a social structure that causes mental and emotional harm to humans. We’ve let go our needs to sleep, that took the evolution 3.400.000 years to develop in order to support vital body functions, in one century.
Walker was interviewed in Joe Rogan’s podcast. If you don’t feel like reading the book, you can watch the video to get a global idea of the damage being caused.
It turns out that rhythm is everything. Human beings have a so-called Circadian rhythm, “approximately a day” in Latin. A body gets used to a rhythm and releases hormones just at the right time, if you don’t trick it.
Therefor, it is highly recommended to go to bed and to wake up at roughly the same time every day. Including the weekends.
Sleeping longer on weekends won’t fully make up for a lack of sleep during the week and will make it harder to wake up early on monday morning. That’s not how the body works, the damage is already done then. Having to wake up early means you might go to bed earlier, too.
NIHMedline Plus lists 12 recommendations to improve your sleep:
- Stick to a sleeping schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Exercise is great, but not too late in the day. Try to exercise (e.g. walking, riding bike) 30 minutes a day, but not within 2-3 hours before going to bed.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Coffee, tea, cola and chocolate contain caffeine, and its effects can last up to 8 hours. Nicotine is also a stimulant, making smokers sleep lightly and waking up earlier because of their addiction.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks before going to bed. Having a nightcap before sleep may help you relax, but heavy use keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep so you don’t fully rest.
- Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A large meal can cause indigestion that interferes with sleep. Drinking too many fluids at night can cause frequent awakenings to urinate.
- If possible, avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep. Some commonly prescribed medications and herbal remedies for coughs, colds, or allergies, can disrupt sleep patterns.
- Don’t take naps after 15h. Naps can help make up for lost sleep, but late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
- Relax before bed. Don’t overschedule your day so that no time is left for unwinding. A relaxing activity, such as reading, listening to podcasts, music or meditating should be part of your bedtime ritual. No screens before
- Take a hot bath before bed. The drop in body temperature after getting out of the bath may help you feel sleepy, and the bath can help you relax and slow down so you’re more ready to sleep.
- Have a good sleeping environment. Get rid of anything in your bedroom that might distract you from sleep (noises, bright lights, uncomfortable bed, warm temperatures0.
- Have the right sunlight exposure. Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day. If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning. And try to not look on screens one or two hours before sleeping.
- Don’t lie in bed awake. If you are still awake after staying in bed for more than 20 minutes or if you are starting to feel anxious or worried, get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy.
I’m trying to apply all these tips in my life since six months, when my personal trainer first advised me to do so. This book made me even more aware of the importance of sleep. I now tend to go to bed at 23h every day, including weekends. It takes me about 30 minutes to fall asleep. My alarm is set at 8:00h but I normally wake up a few minutes earlier. So I end up sleeping 8-9 hours per day and that’s great.
I can genuinely say it really makes the difference. I’m experiencing more energy, more creativity and less anxiety. Overall I feel better, happier and I’m getting more things done. All of this affects my business positively, too.
I agree with Matthew Walker that we have to return to the past in finding our way back to sleep regularly and long, like a century ago. Mother Nature has worked a million years on implementing several essential physiological needs into our bodies. The belief that bluff, willpower or work experience can redeem you from an ancient necessity as sleep is indicative for the kind of overconfidence that, as all evidence shows, costs lives.