Why We Sleep – Matthew Walker Podcast Review

I was fascinated by a great podcast on Bulletproof Radio (Episode 616) with Matthew Walker, PhD who is the author of a recent best seller “Why We Sleep”. He is Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at UC Berkeley and a self-proclaimed ‘Sleep Diplomat’.

Some of the salient points from this podcast included:

  • Just sleeping enough hours isn’t sufficient. In addition to deep sleep, we need REM sleep (25% of sleep) and light sleep. REM sleep optimizes glucose regulation and deep sleep regulates blood sugar equilibrium. For learning and memory, deep and light sleep are optimal. And for our emotional and mental health, REM sleep is key.
  • Temperature is a key factor in promoting the right sleep as our body needs to drop 2-2.5 degrees to initiate sleep and stay asleep. I personally sleep much better in a cool room/climate and this could explain why.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy is a key bio-hack that has been demonstrated to work for insomnia. It also has shown to decrease anxiety, depression and improve mental health.
  • Light is another key factor. As the author explains, we are a dark deprived society and spend too much of our time in the light. Our body’s natural melatonin is released only in the dark. According to the author’s research, an hour of iPad reading suppressed melatonin by 50 percent and delayed the peak of melatonin by 3 hours. What’s alarming is that this effect of sleep disruption didn’t go away until two to three days later. So, if you want to read via tablet or phone, you may want to consider the blue light blocking glasses (you can get these on Amazon or on Bulletproof exec website). Also consider eye masks and block-out curtains to obtain darkness in the room during sleep. In your home, rather than LED lights, you may want to use halogen bulbs that dim to minimize brightness. 
  • It was interesting that the author mentioned that we are genetically programmed to be either a morning or a night person, so sleeping at the right time for our chrono type is what’s important and optimal for our health.
  • Sleep is a civil right! Studies have shown that when children sleep in and start school later, their grades go up and truancy rates and fatalities go down (primarily attributed to car accidents – as much as 70% for kids 16-18).
  • One needs to be careful with any sound therapy as this may decrease the deep sleep brain waves and degrade rather than improve sleep. A quiet environment is best.
  • The risk for mortality is raised with sleeping pills (over the counter and prescription) and is also known to raise cancer risk. The issue is that sleeping pills don’t produce naturalistic sleep – they just produce sedation and this isn’t sleep. As such, the American College of Physicians’ new recommendation is that it must no longer be the first line of therapy for insomnia. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy should be the first line of therapy. In addition, the FDA has raised the risk category of these sleeping pills. 
  • There is a causal relationship between lack of sleep and Alzheimer’s disease – I always suspected this as my mom suffered from Alzheimer’s during her latter years.  She worked as a night-shift nurse for over 30 years and was chronically sleep deprived. In addition, her stress levels were always high from working in the ICU unit and balancing work with raising a family.
  • I’ve always been a fan of wine – love the smell, taste and how it makes me feel.  However, my love of wine was eclipsed by all the health reasons why I shouldn’t drink it. For one, I know that alcohol worsens sleep and can deprive me of REM sleep. An interesting fact I learned on the webcast: being constantly deprived of REM sleep will force your body to REM sleep during the daytime – alcoholics experiencing delusional episodes is the bleed-over of REM that has been lacking during the night.   
  • REM sleep is the only type of sleep that can shut off the stress-related chemical in the brain called noradrenaline. For instance, people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have poor REM sleep as high levels of noradrenaline have been detected. 

In summary, sleep deprivation causes aging and disease. It’s critical to get around eight hours of QUALITY sleep, maintain a good diet, exercise and mental health (by minimizing stress and anxiety). Also, a strong social network with friends and family is important.

Please check out the podcasts below.   

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