Whether we like to believe it or not, neurological research states all human beings NEED sleep. And plenty of it! Recently, I read the book “Why We Sleep” by neuroscientist Matthew Walker. From Walker’s research, it was clear that many of us are more chronically sleep-deprived than we realise, and the punishments for this include severely-reduced productivity, performance and happiness. Also, an increased risk of a panel of diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer.
Sleeping less has long been worn as badge of honour and promoted in self-help books by successful people on many occasions. The reality is, even if you think you’re gaining time by sleeping less, it is sacrificed with lower productivity and creativity. Walker states 7-9 hours per night is necessary, with 7 being the absolute minimum for adults. He states that there is no neurological evidence to support that any less than 7 hours of sleep will allow human beings to function at full capacity.
Matt Walker’s checklist for improving your sleep
1. Set a schedule
Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day. Weekends included. Keeping your circadian rhythm regular will make it easier to fall asleep at night, allowing for greater time spent in deep sleep and therefore allowing you to wake up feeling refreshed. Unfortunately, humans cannot ‘bank’ or ‘save’ sleep, meaning there is no point trying to make up for lost time on weekends.
2. Avoid daytime naps
I love a nap as much as the next person, but it is a double-edged sword. While some evidence shows a spike in alertness from a short nap (10-25 mins max), sleeping during the daytime can affect our evening sleep patterns. Avoid any napping after 3pm as a strict rule.
3. Cool the Body Temperature before bedtime
The ideal sleeping temperature is 18.3C according to Walker’s research. For optimal results, Walker actually says you should allow your body to cool pre-bed time. We can trick our body to do this by taking a hot shower or bath pre-bed, essentially heating us up. As we enter our beds, sleep is then promoted as your core body temperature drops.
4. Timing of meals
Timing your meals is important. Avoid large meals and drinks within 2 hours of bedtime. Large meals can cause indigestion and too many fluids cause frequent urinations.
5. Setting the scene
A ‘bedtime routine’ can assist the body and mind to prepare for a good night’s rest. Walker’s most vital tip is to reduce light before bedtime. Try turning off bright lights in the hour leading up to bedtime. Blue light is the most harmful, but any artificial light can delay the circadian rhythm by hours.
For some further tips and discussions regarding the major benefits, how it happens and best ways to promote better sleep, I highly recommend reading Why We Sleep.
‘Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams’ is a survey of modern sleep research by Matthew Walker, Ph.D., a sleep scientist who is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley.