The following are thoughts and insights I found interesting from "Why We Sleep" by Matthew Walker. Part of the reason I do a review after reading a book is so I can better organize my thoughts and formulate action based on what I read. All credit for inspiration to original book and author.
One of the biggest misconceptions of sleep is the concept of repaying sleep debt. In short, there's no such thing. You can't miss half a night of sleep on Wednesday and recoup it Saturday. It's tempting to do this sadly. After a long day of work, the last thing you want to do it go straight to bed. So you stay awake longer than you should. You know you'll regret it in the morning yet you do it anyway. Friday is just around the corner, you think to yourself. I can sleep in on Saturday morning. Alas. these are but little misinformed lies we tell ourselves to justify robbing ourselves of the healing regenerative power of sleep.
The reason this is impossible is due to why we get tired. As you progress throughout your day, a hormone called adenosine is slowly released. Later in the day, you will have accrued enough adenosine that you start to feel tired. One reason caffeine helps you wake up is due to the blunting effect it has on adenosine. Once the caffeine wears off however you're left with the caffeine drop. It's not that you get more tired following caffeine, rather you were unaware of the adenosine buildup you've been continuing to build up while under the deceptive effect of the caffeine.
On the note of substances that impact sleep. Sleep aids are one of the worst things you can do for a good night's rest. Many sleep aids and alcohol may make you feel as if you got a good night of rest but you are shortchanged when it comes to the deep REM sleep that makes sleep so valuable. You slept, but with reduced benefit.
Sleep loss is the greatest epidemic in developed countries. For the most part, those of us fortunate to be located in modern developed nations have the benefit of modern healthcare leading to fewer diseases and illnesses on average.
Unfortunately, the same blessed, developed nations have a dark side in the form of an inflexible work and school life culture. We run awareness campaigns for things such as not driving impaired and the harmful effects of alcohol on brains under the age of 21, yet we are often required to wake early and drive to work drowsy. We force children to wake up early to catch the bus and stay up late to do homework.
Thanks in part to the work of this author and the growing awareness of the importance of sleep there is beginning to be signs of hope. California, for instance, just passed a law that will go into effect in 2022 making it illegal to start school before 8:30 am. Not only does this allow students a little more shuteye, it also reduces the time that students are unsupervised in the gap of time after school until their parents return.
The outlook for adults is a little bleaker. Colleges and the workplace have no such plans. Many individuals work in the service industry requiring very early shifts. This doesn't even account for the time spent in the morning to get ready and the morning commute. All of this subtracts hours from vital sleep time.
It's unlikely if not impossible to abruptly change this culture. The author instead stated that society needs to gradually shift priority to sleep. I admire the practicality of Walker suggesting that capitalism may provide the spark needed to bring about a healthier sleep culture. Many studies are showing that workers are more productive and make fewer mistakes when they can work around their circadian rhythms. If anything can speak to big business it's the money saved from the prevented errors and increased productivity brought about by more well-rested employees.
Another promising development is the focus of companies such as Apple in the health sector. In recent releases of iOS and macOS Apple has added features for reducing the amount of blue light from light-emitting diodes, LED lighting, in their screens. Many companies, including Apple, are also working to develop sleep tracking technology to help us become more aware of our sleep.
I expected there to be a whole section dedicated to technology bashing concerning sleep. Walker, however, proposes that technology isn't going anywhere, we must learn to harness technology to help in our quest for more sleep. The technology isn't quite here yet. But he dreams of a day when smart speakers can cycle through proper REM sleep encouraging sound waves and lighting around the house gradually adjusts to our circadian rhythm.
Perhaps one of the things I overlooked most about sleep is its impact on your immune system. Sleeping it off is a very real deal to recover from illness. In addition, lack of sleep is increasingly being tied to cancer, Alzheimer’s, and many other diseases.
One random point I found interesting was regarding the author's thought on the source of lucid dreaming. Approximately only 10% of humanity can lucid dream. Is this a remnant of sleep that humanity has evolved beyond? Or is it the next phase of human evolution? I hope that the ability to live in our dreams, as well as our waking life, is ahead of us, not behind. I've always found lucid dreaming fascinating but have been unable to keep myself asleep when I recognize I'm dreaming.
Here are a few actionable insights I found in this book:
- Keep my sleep more consistent. I have a bad habit of adjusting my sleep schedule based on the activity of the next day. If the following day is one of the three days that I don't work I will often stay up until 3 am. The other days however bedtime is 10 pm. This inconsistency is harmful to my ability to get meaningful sleep because my sleep cycle is unable to develop a reliable pattern.
- Multiple alarms are bad on my heart. This had never occurred to me but the concept that allows alarm clocks to work is terrible on your body and heart. I have a terrible habit of setting multiple alarms over the course of an hour to wake up. I figured doing so gradually was better for me as well as functioning as added redundancy. It would be far more beneficial for me to have two alarm clocks set at the same time a little later.
- Sleep could be part of a powerful preventative measure. This last year I've realized the importance of water in my diet. Drinking more water has dramatically improved my health, bodily functions, and by extension my mental state. Sleep needs to be added to this mindset. If I can develop better sleep habits the preventative benefits will be invaluable. In addition to reducing the chance of cancer and other diseases, my anxiety will likely benefit greatly. There was a short chapter in the book regarding a study where participants were deliberately denied REM sleep. After a week there was little difference between an individual with schizophrenia and one that had been dramatically sleep deprived. REM sleep appears to keep mental illness in check as well as file and prepare the brains ability to learn.
- Adjusting my morning routines to maximize sleep. In addition to the aforementioned delaying of my alarm clock, I started implementing a few other practices: I shifted showers into my evening routine and have clothes and breakfast prepared for the morning. I have managed to shave off about 40 minutes of my morning routine allowing 40 additional sleep minutes in addition to the better slept hour that before had my alarm blaring every 20 minutes.
- Adjusting my evening routine. In addition to the obvious change of a slightly earlier bedtime and more consistent schedule, shifting my shower to the evening is actually beneficial to my sleep. Hot water causes your blood capillaries to fan out as your body attempts to cool off. This is why you turn red when in a hot bath. This results in a lowering of your body temperature when you exit your shower or bath. Sleep requires your body to drop a few degrees so the lower body temperature lends itself to better sleep. I'm also developing a consistent ritual of activities that allow my mind to wind down.
This book was tough to read at times. Much of the book is discussing specific evidence and studies to back up some of the above claims. That said, I rarely feel that a book dramatically changes how I live my life. Despite being a hard read, I highly recommend this book. If nothing else, analyze your life and figure out what you can do to make sleep a priority.