I used to sleep six hours per night and I thought that was ok. In the weekend I would catch up with some extra sleep. No problem I thought. Until in my recent holidays I read “Why we sleep” by Matthew Walker (2017), with new scientific evidence on sleeping and dreaming. And on the shortterm and longterm impact of sleep deficiency on our behaviour, mood and mental and physical health. It was an eyeopener!
Matthew Walker is a Harvard and Berkeley professor who summarizes twenty years of his own research and thousands of studies worldwide in fourhundred pages, that you read as if it were a thriller. It starts of with the question what sleep is en how much we sleep or should sleep. Then it continues with all the processes that occur in your brain during sleep, and there are many more than I was aware of. Processing information (learning), processing experiences (in your dreams), clear out redundant information and clear out waste products. After reading all this I was surprised this is all happening in only eight hours! Sleep is one of the primary necessities of life. Assuming you are not drugged by alcohol or pills, a good nights sleep reinforces your learning ability and your immune system, revises your pattern of thought and increases your problem solving ability.
So far this is a captivating story for anyone interested in the process of sleeping. But revolutionary and maybe shocking is the evidence for the negative impact of poor or little sleep. Lack of sleep has a lot of shortterm and longterm consequences for almost any physical or mental process. Throughout the book Walker provides causal connections between lack of sleep and all kinds of physical and mental (welfare-)diseases. To me that was astonishing and unexpected. Lack of sleep gets us irritated and less resilient against stress. Continuous lack of sleep causes negative consequences for mind, body and health. Chronic lack of sleep increases anxiety, depression, overweight, dementia and cancer, to mention only a few. Now you should consider that worldwide we averagely sleep one hour less over the past century. The invention of electric light, television, computers and smartphones have creepingly affected the amount and the quality of our sleep. Alcohol en sleeping pills heighten the effects. It’s a disturbing idea, that we may not be very aware of. Fortunately the recepy is within reach: physical exercise, healthy foods (and drinks), adequate sleep and active relaxation. For those among us with chronic lack of sleep Walker provides twelve advices for healthy sleep. First and foremost is the ‘sleepschedule’: go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
Ever since reading this book I turn in earlier and I get up later. If possible I take a power nap. The effect is that I have a lot of dreams, and sometimes I wake up with a solution for something that occupied my mind. And I hope it will contribute to my health in general. Sleeping well is a remedy for most of our modern diseases. You may want to try it. Or maybe sleep on it first. Sleep well!