A lot of you seem to dislike the concept of sleep. A lot of you absolutely indulge in it. Today’s post is going to be another book summary on ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker. All I have to say is that we need to start taking naps more seriously.
The book is broken down into 4 main parts. I’ll briefly touch on the first 3 sections in more detail and talk about some of the ways we can improve our quality of sleep.
- This Thing Called Sleep
- Why Should You Sleep?
- How and Why We Dream
- From Sleeping Pills to Society Transformed
This Thing Called Sleep
Have you ever thought to yourself “I’m just really not a morning person”? Well, apparently that could be true. We can divide people into more or less 3 categories; ‘morning larks’, ‘night owls’ and a combination of the two. Morning larks account for 40% of the population, night owls and the combination account for 30% each. This is known as a chronotype and it’s heavily determined by genes.
From an evolutionary point of view, it kind of makes sense. We needed people to stay up late at night to defend the tribe. If everyone went to bed at the same time, it would increase the risk of being vulnerable and getting attacked. However, in this day and age, being a night owl isn’t necessarily as advantageous. The systems and work schedules we have in place are biased towards the morning larks. This needs to change to accommodate those who are naturally inclined to work better at night.
So how does your body physically know when it’s time for bed? Melatonin. This chemical is released after dusk indicating to your body that it’s time to get ready for bed. It should be noted that it has little influence on the generation of sleep. It just informs your mind that it’s night time.
What actually does influence your tiredness and ability to sleep is a different chemical called adenosine. It essentially accumulates in your body from the time you wake up and increases your desire to sleep. This is known as sleep pressure and is what makes you feel sleepy.
How have we managed to overcome this urge for slumber? A lot of you might be familiar (and perhaps addicted) to the answer, caffeine. Just so you know, caffeine is classified as a psychoactive stimulant. It works by blocking the adenosine receptors; diminishing the sleep pressure. The problem is that the amount of adenosine in your system will continue to rise. So once the caffeine wears out, you often feel even more tired. Caffeine also has a half-life of around 6 hours. This means that after 6 hours, 50% of it will still be lurking in your system.
Your sleep can be categorized into 90 minute cycles of rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) which occur one after the other. This can be seen in the Figure below. REM sleep has similar brainwaves to your waking state. It’s essentially your dreaming state – where you’re temporarily paralyzed (if you ever sleepwalk, there’s essentially a disruption during your REM sleep). It’s also when you’re able to integrate your memories and solve problems. The NREM cycle is when you’re in a more logical, slow-waved and reflective state. It’s when you save memories and make sense of your experiences. Both cycles are extremely important and can only be utilized when you sleep for over 7 hours sufficiently.
Why Should You Sleep?
- To be a functional human being and contribute to society
- To remember stuff
- To help your body recovery – especially if you’re active
- To solidify your immune system
- To get smarter (problem-solving and creativity)
- To control your body weight
- To enhance your social awareness (and emotional intelligence)
- I could honestly keep going on…
I’ve gone into the previous chapter in enough detail. The abovementioned bullets provide enough evidence to support the claim of requiring at least 7 hours of sleep. Everything in moderation, obviously. Don’t go for more than 9-10 hours of sleep (if you’re a young adult).
The rate race will tempt you into sacrificing this invaluable coping mechanism. It’s not worth it. Find the right balance.
How and Why We Dream
It’s quite incredible how similar the state of psychosis is to dreaming, considering that you were:
- Affectively labile (extreme swings in emotion)
- And suffering from amnesia
These are normal biological and psychological processes that we experience when we dream. REM sleep specifically is associated with the active, conscious experience of dreaming.
We don’t just dream about the events of our day, but rather, the emotions that we’ve experienced. This allows us to effectively keep our mental health in check, alongside many of the other benefits I mentioned previously. The problem-solving and ability to form logical connections all occur during our dreaming state.
“Dreaming takes the approach of interrogating our recent autobiographical experience and skillfully positioning it within the context of past experiences and accomplishments, building a rich tapestry of meaning.”
Tips for getting better sleep:
- Have a consistent time to go to bed and to wake up
- Keep away from blue light at least 30 minutes before you sleep (don’t get into the habit of staring at your phone as you’re trying to sleep)
- Keep the room temperature relatively cool (around 20°C)
- Cut out your last cup of coffee more than 6 hours before you plan to sleep
- Exercise regularly (not too late in the evening)
To summarize everything I’ve learned from this book: If you don’t get enough sleep, you will literally die. I’ve barely gone into the same level of detail as the book, so I highly recommend you give it a read for yourself to truly maximize the benefit you can gain from understanding the importance of sleep.
Moving forward, we need to really start appreciating the impact a consistent amount of good quality sleep can have on our lives. If you know anyone who argues against the requirement of over 6 hours of sleep, please recommend this book to them. More often than not, they haven’t done adequate research.
Have a great night and rest well! You deserve it.