The Jordan Harbinger Show – Dr. Matthew Walker on Unlocking the Power of Sleep

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Key Takeaways
  • 1 out of 2 American adults is trying to survive on 6 hours of sleep or less during the week
  • With just 6 hours of sleep, you’re 33% more likely to get into a traffic accident
  • The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life – a lack of sleep predicts all cause mortality
  • Based on evidence from over 100,000 studies, the number of people who can survive on 5 hours of sleep or less, without showing any impairment, rounded to a whole number and expressed as a percentage of the population…is 0
  • There are genes that dictate whether or not you’re a night/morning person
  • Even a non-caffeinated hot drink in the morning, will help wake you up
  • Caffeine has a quarter life of 12 hours – So if you have cup of coffee around noon, 1/4 of the caffeine is still circulating around your brain at midnight
    • This is the equivalent to drinking a quarter cup of coffee right before bed
  • Waking up at 7:30am, for a teenager, is the equivalent of an adult waking up at 4:30 or 3:30 in the morning
  • About 70% of teen parents believe their teen is getting enough sleep
    • But only 11% of teens are actually getting the sleep they need
  • You don’t need as much melatonin as you think – only 0.5-2 mg
    • By taking 5-10 mg, your system starts to adapt, and becomes intolerant to the melatonin
    • Take it 45 minutes before your desired bed time
  • With a lack of REM sleep, our brains ability to decode the emotions of other people, plummets
  • The best piece of sleep advice Dr. Matthew Walker can give
    • Go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day – regularity is key
Intro
  • He is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley
    • His research focuses on the impact of sleep on human health and disease
  • “Almost all of us are chronically underslept, and it’s not a badge of honor that we should be wearing. It’s hurting us in our creative pursuits, in our work, and the way we relate to others.” – Jordan
  • Check out the Podcast Notes from Dr. Walker’s appearance on Joe Rogan
Orthosomnia
  • There’s an emerging clinical disorder, called “orthosomnia
    • It has to do with people who are to fixated on getting the right amount of sleep, so much so that you almost become neurotic/anxious
    • But let’s get real – most people are in danger of underestimating the importance of sleep, and not paying enough attention to it
A Lack of Sleep and the Effects on Driving
  • After 20 hours without sleep, you are as cognitively impaired as you would be if you were legally drunk
  • There are spikes in traffic accidents during the later hours of the night, relative to the amount of traffic on the road
  • In addition – “Road traffic accidents are a lot more deathly when caused by insufficient sleep, when compared to drugs or alcohol”
    • Why? – With drugs or alcohol, you tend to have a “late” reaction. When you’re extremely sleep deprived, you’re prone to brief “micro sleeps”, which can be fatal – you don’t have any reaction…at all. When you fall asleep, you won’t hit the breaks. At that moment, there’s a two ton missile traveling at 65 mph, and no one’s in charge.”
  • A lack of sleep causes more car accidents than drugs and alcohol combined
  • “It’s safe to say sleep is a major catastrophic problem on our roads today”
  • With just 6 hours of sleep, you’re 33% more likely to get into a traffic accident
  • Every 30 seconds, there is a road traffic accident caused by insufficient sleep in America
A Lack of Sleep Predicts All Cause Mortality
  • “Every major physiological system in your body, and every operation of the mind, is incredibly dependent on sleep, wonderfully enhanced when you get it, and markedly impaired when you don’t get enough”
  • The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life – a lack of sleep predicts all cause mortality
    • If you’re regularly getting 5 hours of sleep or less, you have a 65% increased risk of dying at any moment in time, relative to people getting 8 hours of sleep or more
    • “Every disease that’s killing us in the developed world, now has a causal link to insufficient sleep
      • This list includes – Cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, Stroke, Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, Obesity, Depression, Anxiety, and Suicide
        • The link between a lack of sleep and cancer is now so strong, that recently the World Health Organization decided to classify any form of night time shift work as a probable carcinogen
        • During sleep, we clear away plaques that can lead to Alzheimer’s Disease
  • “Human beings are the only species that deprive themselves of sleep, for no apparent gain”
Do you really need 8 hours of sleep?
  • Based on evidence from over 100,000 studies, the number of people who can survive on 5 hours of sleep or less, without showing any impairment, rounded to a whole number and expressed as a percentage of the population…is 0
    • There’s a tiny fraction of people that can survive on 5 hours of sleep or less
    • There’s a genetic abnormality in the DEC gene, which allows people to sleep around 5.5-6 hours, without any impairment
    • You are more likely to be struck by lighting in your life time (odds  of 1/12,500) than you are to have this gene
Fasting and Sleep
  • Sleep tends to get shorter, and more fragmented, during periods of starvation
    • Example – During prolonged fasting (3-5 days)
    • Think about this evolutionary – when a hunter gather lacked food, his body probably neglected sleep so he could go out and search for something to eat
    • When you intermittent fast (for 24-48 hours)- “Your sleep will more than likely get worse, or at least become shorter in duration”
      • BUT – This may mean that when you sleep, the quality is ironically better, because you have a shorter period to get the sleep, so that when you do, the brain latches on, and you get much more deep sleep
      • “I don’t think, however, that this is sustainable”
      • Long story short – when you either intermittent fast or do a prolonged fast, you should expect to see a change in your sleep patterns
    • Time restricted feeding (just restricting your feeding to an 8 hour window), doesn’t seem to have too much of an effect
Circadian Rhythm
  • Even plants have a circadian rhythm
  • There is one master clock within the brain of human beings – called the super chiasmatic nucleus (SCN)
    • But there are clocks all over the body – All of our cells have “24 hour clocks”
  • We all have a “chronotype” – a natural timing tendency for when you want to be awake, and when you want to be asleep
    • Some people are “night owls”, others are “morning larks”
    • People need to realize, it’s not a choice
      • It’s not your fault if you can’t function effectively at 7am
      • There are genes that dictate whether or not you’re a night/morning person
        • Why is this genetic? – Think about a hunter gather tribe. It would be beneficial from an evolutionary stand point, if certain people were awake at different times of the day, to protect the tribe from the harm that could result from being asleep for 8 straight hours. If everyone slept during the same 8 hour window, the tribe would be extremely vulnerable during that period.
Sleep and Evolution
  • “From an evolutionary stand point, think about sleep. It is the most idiotic of all things. When you’re asleep, you’re not finding a mate, you’re not finding food, you’re not reproducing, and you’re not caring for your young. You are vulnerable to harm. Sleep should have been strongly selected against in the course of evolution. The fact that it has persisted in every species that we’ve studied to date, means that if sleep doesn’t serve an absolutely vital function, it’s the biggest mistake the evolutionary process ever made.”
Sleep Pressure
  • AKA the need to sleep
  • This is caused by a chemical called adenosine
    • From the moment you wake up, adenosine starts to build up in the brain, and the more it builds up, the sleepier you’ll feel
    • After 16 hours of the accumulation of adenosine, you should feel sleepy enough so you’ll fall asleep easily, and stay asleep throughout the night
    • During the deep stages of sleep, the brain clears out the adenosine
  • Caffeine
    • Caffeine latches on to adenosine receptors, blocking the sleepiness signal
      • It’s like the mute button on your remote – it mutes the adenosine signal
      • While the caffeine is working it’s magic, the brain is still building up adenosine
        • So by the time the effect of the caffeine has worn off, you’ll have additional sleep pressure from that build up (a caffeine crash)
    • Caffeine is thermogenic (it increases your core body temperature) – this makes you more alert
      • So even a non-caffeinated hot drink in the morning, will help wake you up
      • In order for the body to “wake up” – its core temperature has to rise
      • So, a half hour before you want to wake up, it might be a good idea to set your thermostat to rise by a few degrees
    • “If you’re drinking caffeine before mid day, you’re probably just self medicating your state of sleep deprivation”
    • Dr. Walker recalls a study, where participants were given a cup of coffee in the evening, and they showed a 20% loss of deep sleep, compared to when they had not had caffeine in the evening
      • A standard cup of coffee has 200 mg of caffeine
      • As you age, the amount of deep sleep you tend to be able to get, goes down – so a 20% reduction in deep sleep is equivalent to ageing yourself 20-30 years
    • Caffeine has a half life of 6-7 hours
      • It has a quarter life of 12 hours – So if you have cup of coffee around noon, 1/4 of the caffeine is still circulating around your brain at midnight
        • This is the equivalent of drinking a quarter cup of coffee right before bed
Sleep and School Start Times
  • Studies have found that when school start times are delayed, academic performance increases, behavioral problems decrease, psychiatric issues decrease, and the life expectancy of students increases
    • The leading cause of dearth of adolescent teens, is road traffic accidents – a major cause of which is a lack of sleep
  • One study in Wyoming tracked a school who delayed their start time from 7:30am to 8:55am
    • They showed a 70% reduction in road traffic accidents for kids ages 16-18
  • For a 7:30am start time, some school buses will starting picking kids up around 5:30-6am, meaning some kids have to wake up as early as 5am
  • Waking up at 7:30am, for a teenager, is the equivalent of an adult waking up at 4:30 or 3:30 in the morning
    • During adolescence, you become more night owlish – your chronotype starts to move forward in time
  • “If our goal, as educators, truly is to educate and not risk lives in the process, then we are failing our children in the most spectacular manner, in this incessant model of early school start times”
  • About 70% of teen parents believe their teen is getting enough sleep
    • But only 11% of teens are actually getting the sleep they need
Sleep Debt
  • “Sleep is not like a bank. You can’t accumulate a debt, and hope to pay it off at a later point in time.”
  • Why don’t we have this ability? It seems like it would be useful, thinking in terms of evolution.
    • Compare this to how we can burn fat during times of famine
    • “Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprives themselves of sleep. Mother nature has never been forced to face the challenge of a chronic sleep debt. Mother nature has never had to come up, biologically, with a solution to overcome insufficient sleep.”
How do you know you’re getting enough sleep?
  • You can easily wake up naturally
    • If you would easily over sleep if you didn’t set an alarm, then you are clearly underslept
  • If you have to have caffeine in order to wake up – you’re underslept
  • If you have trouble reading/focusing early in the day without caffeine – you’re underslept
Anticipatory Anxiety
  • Stop checking your phone first thing in the morning
    • “When people wake up in the morning, the first thing they typically do is swipe and unlock. It unleashes a wave of anxiety, that cascades into your day, in a way that we haven’t evolved to handle. Just by knowing that’s how you’re going to wake up in the morning, when you go bed at night, a “micro dose” of that anxiety is created right before bed, so your sleep just isn’t as deep.”
      • It’s a terrible thing, to wake up expecting the activation of your fight or flight nervous system
    • Try to go just 5 minutes without looking at your phone (specifically social media) first thing in the morning
  • The amount of anticipatory anxiety correlates with the depth of your sleep
    • With very little – you have lots of deep sleep, so you wake up feeling refreshed
    • With lots (or even a moderate level) – you won’t sleep as well
Beating Jet Lag
  • There is no cure for jet lag, but there are some hacks to diminish the severity…
    • Assuming you’re taking a long transatlantic flight (like from SF to London)…
      • Sleep only during the first half of the flight, and stay awake during the second half, and throughout the following day when you arrive
        • Try to give yourself at least 14 hours of being awake, from the time you wake up halfway through the flight, to the time you want to go to sleep in the new time zone (so you have time to build up enough adenosine)
      • Avoid alcohol and caffeine on the flight – both will make it harder for your 24 hour clock to adjust to the new time zone
      • Get at least 30 minutes of natural day light before 10am in the new time zone – do NOT wear sunglasses, you need the light
      • Do some light exercise before midday in the new time zone – even a 20 minute walk
      • As soon as you land, start eating on the new time zone schedule 
  • Your body clock resets by about an hour each day that you’re in the new time zone
    • It’s a hormone that rises at night
      • It tells your body it’s night time, and that it’s time to sleep
    • Use it strategically – You can fool your body into thinking it’s night time
    • You don’t need much – only 0.5-2 mg
      • By taking 5-10 mg, your system starts to adapt, and becomes intolerant to the melatonin
    • Take it 45 minutes before your desired bed time
Sleep and Learning
  • Sleep helps you secure memories
    • Sleep after learning, will essentially hit the “save button” on those memories, so you won’t forget them
    • Deep slow wave sleep, specifically, works to secure those memories
Why do we dream?
  • When we dream, it’s almost like we’re briefly psychotic
    • We can see things that aren’t there – we’re hallucinating
    • We believe things that couldn’t be true – we’re delusional
    • We have wildly fluctuating emotions – psychiatrists call this being “affectively labile”
    • We’re confused about time and place – we’re disoriented
    • And we forget most, if not all, of our dream experiences – almost like amnesia
  • Dreaming serves at least two functions for the brain
    • Creativity
      • During deep sleep, we cement individual memories
      • REM sleep then takes those memories, and starts to collide them with the back catalog of information that you’ve built up – the new memories find connections and associations, allowing you to find remarkable insights for previously impenetrable problems
        • That’s why you’re told to “sleep on it”
        • After a good sleep, we’re often able to come up with novel solutions to problems we haven’t been able to solve
    • Emotional First Aid
      • Dream sleep is the only time during the 24 hour period, that the brain stops producing a stress related chemical called noradrenaline (aka norepinephrine)
      • During this time, the emotional and memory centers of the brain, are ~30% more active than when you’re awake
      • Dreaming is essentially divorcing the emotion from the memory
      • What does this all mean? – The brain is reactivating and reprocessing the emotional experiences of the prior day, in a neurochemical state that is “safe”, devoid of any stress neurochemistry
        • So when you wake up, you remember the emotional memories, but you’re left with a memory of an emotional event, that is no longer itself, emotional
What happens with a lack of REM sleep?
  • Our brains ability to decode emotions goes down
  • REM sleep serves to recalibrate your emotional network within the brain
  • Your EQ (emotional intelligence) is just as important as your IQ
    • One of the functions of your EQ is to accurately read the emotions of other people
      • Most of this comes from the face
  • With a full 8 hours of sleep, you have a nicely tuned ability for picking up and discriminating subtle emotions
    • With sleep deprivation, or specifically a lack of REM sleep, this ability becomes blunted
    • Think about it – You’re unable to tell if people like you, are fond of you, etc.
The Best Piece of Sleep Advice Dr. Matthew Walker Can Give
  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day – regularity is key
Random
  • 1 out of 2 American adults is trying to survive on 6 hours of sleep or less during the week
  • “Boredom is a wonderful way to unmask your chronic state of sleep loss”
  • Typically night time sweats (during night terrors, for example) occur during non REM/deep sleep
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