I listened to a great interview conducted by NPR’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air on October 16. She interviewed Matthew Walker, who wrote Why We Sleep, the first sleep book written by a leading scientific expert on the subject. I highly recommend listening to the interview or reading the book if you are one of the thousands of people who have chronic sleep problems, and/or are one of us who are getting on in years, or just someone interested in the amazing workings of our brains. This information could change your health and the longevity of your life.
The key points brought forth by neuroscientist Matthew Walker and his team:
- Regularity – the number 1 point – go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time. Even on days off. Sleep eight hours/night. He shared really interesting results from studies that indicated a link between chronic sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s disease, and what the brain actively does when you sleep (and only when you sleep) to prevent the onset of this growing epidemic. It was fascinating.
- Darkness. Walker recommends dimming the lights in the evening as you’re winding down. (You are winding down in the evening, aren’t you?) Not to go from bright lights to the darkness of the sleep environment. No screen time before bed or in the bedroom. Use blackout curtains so that your bedroom is dark. He relayed some interesting information on how melatonin works and the only time it actually helps with sleep issues. Once again, different than what most people think about this hormone.
- Walker’s studies determined that if you can’t sleep, it is best to get up, move to another room, read a book (not look at screens) in dim light until you feel tired again; then return to bed. He explained that tossing and turning in bed trying to get back to sleep for hours just trains the brain to associate wakefulness with the bed. The other strategy that worked equally well – and that surprised this scientist – is to sit up and meditate.
I generally have no problem with sleep, but on the rare occasions that I do, I am always interested to note what hours I am awake and why. I believe that my body is out-of-balance when this occurs and am ultimately grateful for the information it is sending me – although not in the middle of the night! For example, recently I did a three-day cleanse, and on the third night found myself awake between 2 and 3am. One to 3am is the time of day when the liver is most active detoxing. Made sense to me.
- No caffeine after 2pm. No alcohol in evening. Again, some of the recent science was new to me.
- Sleep in a cold room: 68 to 69 degrees. Just pile on the blankies if this sounds too cold. You will fall asleep quicker and sleep sounder.
If you’re interested, here are links to the interview and the book: