We’re having a global brain climate crisis!
Last month, I had my entire worldview about sleep overturned. I went from a sleep denier to a sleep advocate once I realized the detriment I was doing to my health by burning the candle on both ends. I also read Matthew Walker’s entire book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. My emotions went from skepticism to alarm to curiosity to concern as Dr. Walker laid out the reasons for every adult to get at least seven hours of sleep [babies and children obviously need more]. I highly recommend the book because it is footnoted with a lot of research and backed up by real-life experience. He talks not just about the quantity of sleep but also the quality of sleep and the importance of each of the stages of sleep.
Here are at least ten reasons why you should get more sleep. [Note: page numbers are approximate and come from a PDF file which might not correspond to the printed book, but you should be able to flip forward or backward to find the referred material.]
- Drowsy driving is dangerous. When you don’t get enough sleep, you drift off for a few seconds into unconsciousness. A few seconds at sixty miles per hour is lethal. While drunk drivers are slow to respond, drowsy drivers don’t respond at all because they are asleep. All it takes is a few seconds of oblivion. A study showed that later start times for high school students reduced accidents by 70%. To put it in perspective, anti-lock braking technology which was hailed as revolutionary reduced accidents 20-25%. (pg. 226) It is estimated that every 30 seconds, someone gets in an accident that is caused by drowsy driving. Even worse, truck drivers are 200-500% more likely to get into an accident. (pg. 106)
- Lack of sleep devastates your immune system. Even a single night of sleep deprivation (four hours versus eight) swept away 70% of natural circulating T-cells. These are the cells that fight infection and cancer. (pg. 136). In fact, studies show that if you didn’t get several nights of good sleep before a flu shot, your subsequent immunity is roughly 50% of your well-slept counterparts. You can imagine what a lifetime of sleep deprivation can do to your immunity and ability to ward off cancer.
- Lack of deep NREM sleep and dementia/Alzheimers go hand in hand. The brain uses deep NREM sleep to clean out the amyloid plaques (or debris) between the neurons. The less deep sleep, the more amyloid, the more amyloid, the less deep sleep. How can we prevent this downward spiral? Start getting more sleep whatever your age. Those of us who are already past midlife will have a disadvantage but we can still try to clean up as much as we can by sleeping more. (pg. 120)
- Unhealthy sleep, unhealthy heart. Here the data is clear. Study after study shows how even a single night of short sleep raises blood pressure, calcifies the coronary arteries, and elicits the fight-and-flight emergency response system and speeds up the heart. Deep NREM sleep soothes and calms the fight-and-flight branch of the nervous system. (pg. 126)
- Sleep and lose weight. When we find ourselves needing to lose a little weight, we immediately turn to dieting and exercising. While these two activities are proven to work, they will get a significant boost if we also increase our sleep. No matter how strong your willpower is, you can’t beat these two hobbit-like hormones, leptin and ghrelin. One (ghrelin) makes you crave food and turns you ravenous, and the other (leptin) signals that you’re full and there’s no need to eat. Sleeplessness unleashes the ghrelin (cookie) monster while a full night’s sleep allows leptin to do its job. Research shows that giving people five or six hours of sleep a night caused them to increase their caloric intake by 300 every day or 70,000 a year (10-15 pounds). (pg. 129)
- Sleep enhances learning and memory retention. One experiment showed that sleeping before learning improved learning. Not only that, sleep the subsequent nights increased long term memory. Sadly, even one night of disrupted sleep on the third night after learning decreased retention. For example, a college student sleeps well all week, but goes out drinking on Friday night. That one night of disturbed REM sleep washed away their progress. It’s unknown how many consecutive nights of adequate sleep will make these newly formed memories safe. Dr. Walker says his class groans when finding this out. (pg. 199)
- Sleep and emotional stability. Dreaming reduces stress. Studies have shown that the stress chemical noradrenaline is entirely shut off ONLY while you’re dreaming (REM sleep). (pg. 153) Deprive someone of REM sleep, and their minds will attempt to make up for it by dreaming or hallucinating while awake. This research is so unethical that no attempts are made to recreate the studies from the 1960s when young people were deprived of REM sleep. Their hallucinations could not be distinguished from psychosis. (pg. 224)
- Sleep Deprivation and Bad Decisions. Another alarming fact is that medical doctors and residents are chronically deprived of sleep with the thinking it would “toughen them up.” Many of us are unaware, but the doctor who came up with this tough training regimen was a cocaine addict and made many mistakes himself, including leaving young residents in the middle of surgery alone while he had the shakes. This legacy has killed countless patients, and yet, the medical profession prides itself on it’s sleeplessness. Perhaps they should be ashamed if we equate sleeplessness with being naked. It would actually be safer for patients if they were naked rather than bereft of sleep. The stats are chilling. (pg. 230)
- Sleeplessness makes you Unpopular. Research was done where observers are asked to rate the attractiveness of random people. Each person had a picture taken when he or she was well rested, and another picture taken when he or she was sleep deprived. Even though the individuals were the same, the raters who didn’t know the purpose of the study rated the pictures of the sleep-deprived state as less attractive. Perhaps that’s why we call it a beauty rest or beauty sleep. (pg. 134) Furthermore, sleep-deprived individuals are less able to pick up on social cues. They tend to attribute negative thoughts to others by defaulting to a fear bias. (pg. 158) Imagine what happens when a nation or world of sleep-deprived individuals ascribe negative motivations and exhibit fear-based responses toward each other.
- Great sleep make great creativity (and sex). Ending on a positive note, sleep has always been the source of creation, whether of the arts or procreating new human beings. Dreaming and a good night’s sleep gave us the periodic table, neurotransmitters jumping across synapses, Paul McCartney’s Let it Be and Yesterday, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (pg. 163) Sleep also keeps testosterone levels healthy (pg. 132). Take that, you alpha males bragging about how little sleep you get. Under-slept men have smaller testicles and lower sperm count, the testosterone level of a man ten to fifteen years older, and a dulled libido. Under-slept women have irregular menstrual cycles and are more likely to suffer miscarriages. (pg. 133). Therefore if you want to birth and raise healthy babies, make it a habit to prioritize sleep, and give your children great sleep habits, too. It’ll increase their learning, social attractivness, emotional stability, and overall health.
I hope you read the book for yourself. Dr. Walker covers tips for a better night’s sleep. These do NOT include sleeping pills, alcohol, and caffeine. Unfortunately, all of these chemicals disrupt normal sleep patterns. Sleeping pills are habit forming. Alcohol sedates the cortex but creates nonrestful sleep, and of course caffeine with its long half life make getting to sleep difficult. You also cannot “bank” up or “makeup” for sleep by bingeing on it over the weekend. What’s lost is lost. You can only go forward and give yourself at least eight hours of sleep opportunity a night.
Within a month I’ve increased my average sleep time from 5 hours a night to 7 hours a night. I wear a Fitbit Charge 2 to track my sleep so I don’t have to record it every night. I also go to bed earlier and have had to shift my writing time, because I used to write late into the wee hours of the night. My latest book, Not My Boss, was written before I added 2 hours a night of sleep. It’s available in a new Workplace Romance Boxed Set, Madly in Love with a Coworker. My self-driving car romance, Nick’s Christmas Ride, is written with 7-8 hours of sleep a night and will be in the new Author’s Billboard Christmas set coming in late October. I’m still proud of my late nights with Not My Boss: Can office pranks, HR violations, and a doggy fashion show get Dixie the divorce she thinks she wants?
Rachelle Ayala is a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance and romantic suspense. Her foremost goal is to take readers on a shared emotional journey with her characters as they grow and become more true to themselves. Rachelle believes in the power of love to overcome obstacles and feels that everyone should find love as often as possible, especially if it’s within the pages of a book.
Her book, Knowing Vera, won the 2015 Angie Ovation Award, A Father for Christmas garnered a 2015 Readers’ Favorite Gold Award, Christmas Stray received a 2016 Readers’ Favorite Gold Award, and Playing for the Save got the 2017 Readers’ Favorite Gold Award in Realistic Fiction.
She is also a writing teacher and founder of the Romance In A Month writing community. She lives in California with her husband and has three children and two birds.