A Sleep Scientist Disputes Some Common Assumptions About Sleep and Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Mental and Physical Health

A Sleep Scientist Disputes Some Common Assumptions About Sleep and Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Mental and Physical Health

NPR posted “Sleep Scientist Warns against Walking through Life ‘In An Underslept State’” on 10-16-17. This article, which is a summary of a fresh air interview with sleep scientist Matthew Walker is an excellent and concise summary of the current science behind getting adequate and healthy sleep. Dr. Walker provided seven recommendations for behaviors that will help with sleep.

Dr. Walker is the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. He noted, “every disease that is killing us in developing nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep.” He went on to provide, briefly summarized, the following recommendations for getting better sleep:

  1. If you do not fall asleep in a timely manner, absolutely do not remain in bed. The human brain quickly learns to associate lying in bed with being awake. Dr. Walker recommends going to another room, preferably one that is dimly lit, do something relaxing, and only returned to bed when you’re sleepy. This helps the brain associate lying in your bed with sleep, rather than wakefulness. He also recommends using meditation at these times; it naturally helps quiet the brain and promote sleep-enhancing relaxation.
  2. Current sleep science has established that you can’t plan on shorting yourself on sleep for one night and making it up the next night. The brain just doesn’t work like that!
  3. Teenagers should not be required to start school earlier than permitted by their natural circadian rhythms. Obviously, this is beyond the control of parents, and is a public policy issue.
  4. There is a myth that people need less sleep is the age, and Dr. Walker clarified that older people actually have more difficulty sleeping, and still benefit of getting as much sleep as possible.
  5. Sleeping pills do not produce “naturalistic sleep.” They alter the quality of your sleep. They are classified as sedatives, and create a state of sedation. As Dr. Walker said, “sedation is not sleep, it’s very different.”
  6. Some people believe that they can drink caffeine in the evening, and still fall asleep. Dr. Walker pointed out that some people indeed can fall asleep with caffeine on board, but the caffeine still affects the quality of their sleep. They will awaken feeling less refreshed, and often start drinking caffeine again, and end up in a vicious cycle.
  7. Alcohol is also classified as a sedative, and, once again, sleep with alcohol on board is sedated sleep, not “naturalistic sleep.” Also, alcohol results in disruptions of sleep, although you may not remember them. Of particular concern, “alcohol …is very good at blocking your REM sleep…. which is critical for aspects of mental health within the brain and emotional restitution, too.”

MHConcierge’s take: this is a quick and easy read which can be helpful to psychologist and therapist working with people who have sleep problems, and can be used as a reference for those who are interested in learning more about sleep science. The article is available for free online.

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