Matthew Walker, a world renowned sleep expert, is busy telling the world we need more sleep. He says sleep is the best thing we can do for our mental and physical health and that ‘it’s the best life insurance there is’. With 2 out of 3 adults not getting enough sleep there’s plenty to improve on.
“There is not one process in the human body, (that we’re aware of) that isn’t improved by sleep”.
There’s a lot to understand about sleep, including how much is enough. Dr Walker’s research indicates that we should aim for 8 hours a night and that all stages of sleep are beneficial. Non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, is deep and dreamless and is important for our physical well-being. REM sleep on the other hand, is important for our mental well-being. Matthew Walker describes it as emotional first aid.
If we don’t get enough sleep we can get caught in a vicious cycle where stressful experiences stay sharp and we get more anxious and stressed rather than less, making it harder to sleep the following nights. Dream sleep takes our stressful experiences and softens the sharp edges so that we are better able to cope.
His 5 top tips for getting good sleep are:
- Regularity. Aim to go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time as much as possible. The sweet spot of enough sleep is 8 hours, but aim for between 7-9 hours every night. Being regular improves the quantity and quality of our sleep. Try not to use an alarm clock but to wake naturally. (If you’re worried that you’ll sleep too long without an alarm it probably means you’re not getting enough sleep!)
- Darkness. Blue light decreases melatonin production and melatonin helps us to fall asleep and stay asleep. IPads and phones emit blue light so avoiding these for an hour before bed can dramatically improve the quality of your sleep. It can also help to dim lights in the hour before bed as this triggers the brain ready for sleep.
- Keep it cool. To fall asleep our body temperature needs to drop 1O. The optimal bedroom temperature for this to happen is around 18-18.5O.
- Walk it out. Your brain needs to know that your bed is for sleeping. If you can’t fall asleep, or wake up in the night, and are awake for longer than 15 minutes. Get up and read or mediate in dim light before trying to go back to bed.
- Be mindful of alcohol and caffeine intake. Alcohol fragments your sleep and blocks dream sleep. Caffeine tricks your body into thinking it’s not tired, and affects the amount of deep sleep you get by up to 20%. Caffeine also stays in your body for a long time. The key to drinking coffee AND getting good sleep is to stop drinking it 12-14 hours before going to sleep, so breakfast only!
Other things that can help you to sleep well are; stop eating 3 hours before going to bed (if the digestive system is working hard your sleep will be fragmented), avoid sugar (sugar warms your body as it metabolises and we need our body temperature to drop to fall asleep), and don’t exercise too late in the day (2-3 hours before bed).
If you want to live longer and live well, prioritise your sleep. It’s the cheapest life insurance there is.
For more insights on sleep and health from Matthew Walker, he’s been on some great podcasts including:
- Deliciously Ella w/Matthew Walker –Why we sleep - iTunes link
- Dr Rhonda Patrick w/ Matthew Walker – Sleep and enhancing learning creativity - iTunes link
- Peter Attia w/ Matthew Walker – Ph.D. on Sleep - iTunes link