I love books. They are one of the ways I constantly enrich my life.
There are books you love because the stories inspire you — for me, Faith of the Fallen is a book like that.
There are books you just read for fun: for me, that’s anything in the sci-fi or fantasy realm.
There are books you love because they teach you things you didn’t know before: I recent example for me is Change Your Schedule Change Your Life — it taught me to count how many hours a day I eat and led me to awareness of how much I eat which lead me to eat far less in a healthy manner.
And then, there are books that change your life: Today, I want to talk about one of those.
It’s about sleep and why it matters:
Disclaimer: if you buy the book, it will go to supporting my blog. I will always only recommend things I wholly believe in, but I will also monetize my site so I can bring you more content and continue this blog!
A Little Sleep History
I am a driven person: If I have a goal, I will stick to it. I’m persistent and I know all the science of persistence, so I can make it stick AND I’m stubborn. What does this mean? I often work long hours or will work very late on projects I care about because I’m very committed to a high standard.
So, instead of getting 7 hours of sleep a night, to make it through graduate school, I regularly slept 5 hours each night. I would accept my bosses unreasonable urgency of ‘just cause’ and would stay up late to work on projects, so sleep deprivation was nothing new to me.
Let me show you what I learned from Why We Sleep and why that habit was so bad.
Why Sleep Deprivation is Bad
I learned 11 reasons why sleep deprivation is worse that I thought it was, let’s dive in:
1: Sleeping as little as 4 hours can have as much effect on your brain and sleeping zero hours. Humans are notorious for our inability to recognize this weakness when we are missing sleep.
2: 17 hours of sleep deprivation is equivalent to being drunk in terms of cognitive performance (link).
3: Did you know your ability to perform actually decreases with how long you are awake? More on this and how it related to learning and sports in a little bit!
4: Ten days of sleeping 6 hours a night is equivalent to having a night with no sleep according to brain function.
5: Sleep Deprivation Effects Your Heart (sleep foundation research) making it work harder.
6: Long nights cause a detrimental effect on your cancer-fighting cells: a study was done (Michael Irwin, University of California) where 70% of the cancer-fighting cells were reduced from a 4 hour night of sleep.
7: Sleep deprivation increases your calorie intake and reduces your calorie burn.
Consider this: when living on a reduced calorie diet get your sleep! A study was done on two groups — both on a low-calorie diet — but one group only got 5.5 hours of sleep vs. 8 hours of sleep. They both lost weight, but the 5.5 hours of sleep group lost 70% from muscle mass! The full sleeping group lost as much as 50% of their weight from body fat.
8: Sleeping less is associated with shorter telomeres: the end cap of our chromosomes that protect the cells. They are associated with faster aging if they are shorter, 10/1/18 (i.e. people with less sleep have shorter telomeres and people with shorter telomeres age biologically faster, but it is unclear which is causal) — but given the sheer amount of evidence against sleep deprivation, I strongly recommend you get your 7-9 hours of sleep.
9: A study by Prather injected people who slept fully and people who had been sleep-deprived with a strain of the common cold: the chance of getting sick increased as much as 50% if you sleep 5 hours vs. 8.
10: Adults who sleep 6 hours a night vs ones that sleep 8 hours a night have a 200% increased risk of heart attack or stroke in their lifetime. This is increasingly important as you approach mid-life.
11: When you are sleep deprived, you crave more sweets, heavy carbohydrate foods, and salty snacks by 30-40% (Van Cauter).
So, in summary, when you deprive yourself of sleep, you increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, increase your chance of getting sick, reduce your ability to lose weight, crave high-calorie food more, reduce your cognitive function severely, potentially age faster, and reduce your ability to fight cancer. Is your work project worth doing that to your body?
This is a good point of view to have in mind when defining health for yourself.
But it’s not all bad: I promise! Let me share the good stuff, too!
Ways Sleep Can Help You
First, let’s talk about the two types of sleep and what they do for you:
NREM (Stands for Non Rapid Eye Movement): While you are awake, you are receiving ALL KINDS of information. NREM sleep is a combination of pruning unneeded connections in the early stages to an awe-inspiring presentation of synchronicity in the slow wave deep sleep. Imagine it as if all your neurons were a unified whole passing information from one are to very remote regions. This is primarily where your brain moves recent information into long-term storage so it won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
(Stand for Rapid Eye Movement): REM sleep is like a fantastical movie-theatre processing all your thoughts, emotions, and ideas and integrating them with each other. This is part of why REM sleep is When you’re in REM sleep, you’re muscles go completely slack: mother nature has protected us from acting out from our dreams since all our outside senses are turned off. REM is strengthening newer memories in long-term storage and helping you inter-relate everything to each other.
Throughout the night, NREM and REM sleep battle for time in our brain: often NREM will be more frequent in the first part of the night while the second half is often more REM sleep.
But let’s talk about what they can do for you.
1: Easier Learning and memorization.
Here’s a really cool study that was done by Matthew Walker’s team: he wanted to understand if you gave the brain instructions if the brain would take them to heart (pun intended).
So, he put words on flashcards in front of people with either the instruction REMEMBER! Or FORGET!
The control was having people trying to memorize these words normally with no special instruction.
And what he found I’ll never forget:
The words with remember had an increased retention of 20% after sleep.
The words with forget were completely, utterly forgotten after sleep.
The control had average retention for both groups of words.
What is most amazing is that your brain is smart enough to pick up cues: trust it!
After first learning something, REM sleep will work over the next several nights to integrate that knowledge into the brain. Alcohol can interfere with this process: in one study as much as 40% of the newly learned facts were forgotten if they had alcohol as late as 3 nights after the initial learning. It is not know how long it takes for memories to be fully integrated at this point, but research continues.
2: REM sleep can help you solve complicated problems
REM sleep works all night long to integrate things you may have learned with things you now know: building on your already diverse connections in your brain. You can take advantage of this process:
If you feed components to a problem before entering rem sleep, novel connections will emerge. As a way to test this, researchers gave problems to subjects, but there was a hidden rule that could solve the problems way faster!
60% found it after sleeping a full 8 hours; 20% found it without sleeping. That’s 3 times the solution rate — by sleeping first!
3: REM Sleep will help improve your motor skills
In a study done by Dr. Walker, he had two groups try to learn a sequence on the keyboard: 4-1-3-2-4 (all right-handed to remove bias).
Half-learned in the morning and were retested 12 hours later.
The other group learned in the evening and were retested 12 hours later, but with 8 hours of sleep.
And the results?
The sleeping cohort had a 20% increase in speed and a 35% increase in accuracy compared to the control! This is also true of musicians, runners and any other type of activity that requires your physical effort.
But what part or type of sleep is responsible for this? Dr. Walker found that it is the last two hours of sleep that is responsible: specifically NREM stage 2 sleep. Can a simple nap have this effect? You bet! A nap produces enough sleep spindles (which produce this effect) that it improves your motor abilities. So, you want to win that race or 5k? Take a nap right before.
How I Used All This Knowledge
For me, 2018 has been the year of defining what health means to me.
This really fleshed out what sleep does for me and how I’ve been abusing my body for years. So, I’ve organized my life around my goals, love, and sleep:
Since I’m aggressively losing weight I organized my life around that and sleep:
I wake up and exercise first, go to work, come home, have dinner with my wife, relax for about an hour, meditate and go to bed. I’m always in bed by 9 p.m. which means I always get at least 7 hours of sleep if I wake up at 4 a.m.
This is very different from what I would do a year ago: I often would work super late since I allowed work to stress me out, I would never exercise and I only took the minimum time to have dinner with family before moving on to whatever would be occupying my mind.
I used to binge on the weekend and stay up to midnight and crash until whenever I woke up. I’ve since changed it to where I wake up at the same time every day. I’ve noticed I no longer struggle to get to bed Sunday night since I wake up at 4 a.m. Monday through Sunday now.
I push back more if something is going to require my personal time at work because I now realize the impact on my health it has: I don’t think many projects are worth shortening my long-term life, making me gain weight, and increase my risk of heart attack.
This is the start of a series: I’ll publish an article on good sleep habits and how to battle insomnia as well as my process of giving up my weekend late nights. To come this week and next! Subscribe to my email to not miss a post 🙂
If you enjoyed this content, please think about supporting my page: If you purchase anything on Amazon after clicking the link below (even if it’s not the book), a portion of it goes to support my page. The link below is the book where all this research came from: I thoroughly enjoyed it and it changed my life so I have no qualms about fully recommending it.