The Shorter Your Sleep, The Shorter Your Life
BY CHERYL HARBOUR
You know the expression “slept like a baby”? There’s a reason people don’t say “slept like a grandparent.” Somehow getting a good night’s sleep seems to get more elusive for adults – and ever trickier the older we get.
According to this wonderfully warm and enjoyable – yet scientifically grounded – book by Dr. Matthew Walker Why We Sleep- Unlocking the power of sleep and dreams, getting the right amount of sleep and the right kind of sleep is not something we can afford to take lightly. As Dr. Walker says in his popular TED Talk, “Sleep is not an optional lifestyle…it’s a non-negotiable biological necessity.”
Dr. Walker is clearly a sleep zealot, but once we know what he knows, we’ll become more passionate about sleep too. The Circadian rhythms that control when our body naturally falls into and rises out of sleep and our modern lifestyle are totally at odds. And layer on to that the fact that society has built up an image of sleep being only for the weak or lazy.
Why We Sleep gives us insights into the things that disturb our sleep. First of all, we live surrounded by too much light, especially the blue LED light of our electronic devices. Second, if we want to stop fighting our brain’s need for sleep, we’ll have to adjust how we eat, what we drink, when we work, and how we think. Is it worth it? According to Dr. Walker, many of us are already in trouble. By regularly getting less than 7-8 hours a night, we’re increasing our odds of heart problems, cancer, diabetes, memory loss, an impaired immune system, diminished sexual capacity, and early death.
Dr. Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also the founder and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science.
Dr. Walker has seemingly unlimited studies to back up these warnings. And he goes one step further to offer what we can do to improve our “sleep hygiene” once we’re motivated, including these 12 steps:
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Set an alarm to go to bed if you have to.
- Exercise during the day – but not too near bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine in the latter part of the day. It takes 8 hours for these substances to leave your body and they impair sleep.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. A “nightcap” won’t help you get restful sleep.
- Avoid large meals late at night. If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night to urinate, cut back on fluids in the evening.
- Avoid medicine that disrupts or delays sleep. Ask your doctor about any prescriptions.
- Don’t take naps after 3 pm.
- Relax before bedtime. Take time to unwind.
- Take a hot bath. This helps for a different reason than you might think. A hot bath makes blood rush to the surface and actually cools your body core – and slightly lower body temperature tends to aid sleep.
- Sleep in a dark bedroom without gleaming blue lights. Turn LED clocks to face the wall.
- Sunlight exposure early in the day coincides with your Circadian rhythms and encourages wakefulness – and that’s good — but you don’t want to get a lot of sunshine late in the day.
- If you’re lying in bed without being able to sleep for as long as 20 minutes, get up and do something and try again a little later.
One more warning that’s very important to people of any age who turn to sleeping pills, thinking they are making up for sleep they don’t get naturally. Dr. Walker says, “Don’t do it.” Because these pills sedate you, they may keep from being awake – but it’s not the kind of sleep that restores and nourishes your body and brain.
Dr. Walker’s book raises one more urgent question: Why haven’t we heard about this before – why aren’t our doctors giving their patients this most crucial health information?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Cheryl Harbour
Cheryl Harbour is the special editor of our “My GRANDbaby” section and author of Good to Be Grand: making the Most of your Grandchild’s First Year, a combination of up-to-date information and grandparently inspiration.