This post includes 25+ sleeping tips I learned from Matthew Walker. Mr. Walker is a scientist and professor of neuroscience and psychology. His research focuses on the impact of sleep on human health and disease.
Recently I read his book called “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep & Dreams“. In short, the research in his book blew me away in good and terrifying ways. Sure, we all “know” that our bodies need sleep to recover and reset. That is common sense, right?
But, do you know the impact sleep has on the body & the brain? Sleep impacts immunity, memory function, emotions, creativity, and learning.
Sleep isn’t easy for most of us. Yet, if you incorporate the knowledge and sleeping tips within this post and you will be golden.
25+ Expert Sleeping Tips
Before we dive in, I want to give a shout out to Dr. Rhonda Patrick. The work she’s done getting the message of the importance sleep out there. When I heard Dr. Patrick’s podcast interview with Dr. Walker last March, sleep became a hot topic. So, let’s start from the beginning and try to understand the definition of sleep.
What is Sleep?
Even though we all know sleep is important, the purpose of sleep remains a mystery to researchers, scientists, and doctors.
Sleep involves several parts of the brain including the hypothalamus, the brain stem, the thalamus, the cerebral cortex, the pineal gland, the basal forebrain, the midbrain, and amygdala.
There are two types of sleep: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-REM. These types of sleep happen over four stages with Non-REM taking up the first three stages.
Sleeping Tips – Learn about the Stages of Sleep
There are four main stages of sleep. Non-REM covers the first three while REM ends the cycle. These stages repeat every 90 minutes but as the night goes on, the ratio of non-REM to REM sleep decreases.
The first stage happens immediately after you fall asleep. This stage lasts about ten minutes. This sleep is light and you can wake up easily during this stage.
The second stage lasts much longer, up to 60 minutes. During stage 2, your muscles relax and your brain activity is slow-wave (delta).
During the third stage, which lasts anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, the slow-wave activity increases. A person is much harder to wake up during this stage. Finally, a person may have body movements during this stage.
REM is the last or fourth sleep stage. During this stage, you have dreams and your body does not move. In fact, the brain paralyzes muscles so that you don’t move. Also, as the name describes, your eyes and eyelids flutter. Finally, you may also experience irregular breathing.
Why is Deep Sleep So Important?
Dr. Walker describes deep sleep as “a neurochemical bath that modifies painful memories and a virtual reality space in where the body melds past and present knowledge and experience.” Without deep sleep, we are unable to tap our creativity to the best of our abilities.
REM (rapid eye movement) is often referred to as “dream sleep”. REM helps to form connections between recently learned information and our entire catalog of memories. In other words, deep sleep solidifies memories and information. It helps to process the day’s or week’s experiences.
What is Sleep Deprivation?
Sleep deprivation differs depending on a number of variables such as age and stress level. In addition, you have to consider how your body feels after sleep. If you lack focus, feel the need for coffee, and so on, you are likely sleep-deprived even if you’ve slept seven hours the previous night. Likely, your body needs more or different (more REM, for example) sleep.
Sleeping Tips – Recommended Hours
- Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
- Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
- Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
- Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
- School-age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
- Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
- Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
- Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
Recommended Hours of Sleep for YOU
With these ranges stated, pay attention to your body. How do YOU feel about six hours of sleep? Or when you get nine hours of sleep? Do you feel focused? Are you happy? Balanced? How much caffeine do you drink or feel you need to drink?
Asking yourself these questions will help determine your optimal sleep hours. Also, keep in mind, simply because you give yourself eight hours in bed doesn’t mean you’re getting adequate, depending on what your body needs, or eight hours of sleep.
Sleeping Tips – Learning
Optimal learning requires sleep before learning in order to prep the brain and after learning in order to process the new information. In other words, with adequate sleep, the brain saves, synthesizes, consolidates these new memories.
So, the memories once short term stored in the hippocampus part of the brain transfer to the long-term storage part of the brain. I think it was Dr. Walker who referred to the hippocampus as a “USB stick” and the long-term memory storage as the “hard drive”.
Once this process takes place, the hippocampus has a clean slate. Sounds nice, huh?
Consequences of a Lack of Sleep
According to the National Institution of Neurological Disorders & Stroke “Without sleep, you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that let you learn and create new memories, and it’s harder to concentrate and respond quickly.”
- Increases your risk of cancer
- Crushes the strength of your immune system; the activity of natural killer cells decreases significantly
- Increases the chance of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological diseases
- Disrupts blood sugar levels; regulation of blood glucose is negatively impacted
- Increases the chance your arteries will become brittle and blocked thus increasing the chance of cardiovascular disease
- Negatively impacts mental health, such as increased depression and anxiety
- Disrupts of the host circadian rhythm alters the gut microbiome equilibrium
- Limits/shuts down communication between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. Your prefrontal cortex acts as a brake on the gas pedal of your emotions, helping to regulate (or not) emotions
- Your amygdala is far more reactive if you have not had enough sleep
Positive Impact of Adequate Sleep
- Fights malignancy
- Ability to fight infections strengthens
- Lowers blood pressure
- Regulates body weight
- Increases chances of a balanced diet and limits impulsivity with eating
- Fine-tunes insulin & circulating glucose
The Benefits of Dreaming
We all dream (at least 2 hours during sleep) whether you realize it or not. I am a dreamer and recall my dreams each morning. Furthermore, I have recurring dreams with themes I can identify over my lifetime.
Regardless of whether you dream or not, dreaming helps to process emotions whether good or bad. Often dreams include events from the previous day or struggle one if currently facing in life. If you’re anxious or stressed out, you’re more likely to have scary dreams.
What You Can Do to Optimize Sleep?
- According to Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s interview with Dr. Walker, he suggests and recommends “playing the same sound at a sub-threshold awakening level while you learn and sleep seems to improve memory retention.”
- Optimize exposure to light during the day and dark in the evening. The light emitted from a cloud on an overcast day has a powerful effect. Expose yourself to lots of darkness in the evening. Darkness helps release melatonin.
- First thing in the morning, get light for at least 30 minutes. Same go for the evening, expose yourself to darkness.
- If you’re having trouble sleeping or falling asleep, don’t stay in bed.
- Don’t eat before bed or better yet when it is dark out
- Wear socks to bed
- Take a warm bath or hot shower before bed
- Set your bedroom temperature to 66 degrees or cooler
- Don’t drink alcohol close to bedtime
- No caffeine afternoon
- Exercise to increase the body’s immune factors
- Use a sauna for the same reason
- No devices or electronics in your bedroom
- Avoid blue light too close to bedtime
- Relax in bed
- Maintain a consistent bedtime and wake uptime
- Avoid sleeping pills
- Relax before bed
- Don’t eat too close to bedtime
Sleeping Tips – What is the Circadian Rhythm?
Exploring the Circadian Rhythm is simply fascinating. I will write another post on that topic alone.
In the meantime, according to Science Daily, “A circadian rhythm is a roughly 24-hour cycle in the physiological processes of living beings, including plants, animals, fungi, and cyanobacteria. In a strict sense, circadian rhythms are endogenously generated, although they can be modulated by external cues such as sunlight and temperature.”
Fun Fact: Do you know that dip in energy levels in the early afternoon? Well, you’re not alone. We are all wired to experience that dip.