The Power of Sleep | Matthew Walker on The Knowledge Project with Shane Parrish

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Key Takeaways

  • Don’t force sleep, it’s dangerous to stay awake in bed for long periods of time
    • “You’d never sit at the dinner table waiting to get hungry, so why would you lie in bed waiting to get sleepy?” – Matthew Walker
    • Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning: your brain will begin to bond a negative association with your bed and being awake
    • Target a sleep efficiency of 85%-90% (time spent in bed asleep)
  • The harder you try to sleep, the harder it becomes
    • Don’t count sheep, take yourself on a long mental journey. Take your mind off of itself.
  • “The snooze button is the perennial expression of the human frustration of chronic lingering sleep debt” – Matthew Walker
    • Experiment: If you regularly set an alarm clock, would you wake up at that same relative time without the alarm clock?
    • If no, you’re probably operating in a sleep deficit
  • Alcohol and Caffeine before bed reduce your body’s ability to benefit from sleep
    • Alcohol is the opposite of a sleep aid, it is a sedative and sedation is not sleep
    • Try to cut off caffeine consumption 10 hours before bed
    • Continue reading for specific biological responses
  • Matthew mentions some methods for combatting insomnia and sleeping better

Intro

Intro to Sleep Stages

  • Matthew Walker’s intro to REM Sleep & Non-Rem Sleep:
    • 20%-25% in REM sleep
    • 20%-30% in deep non-REM sleep
    • The rest in light non-REM sleep
    • Seven to nine hours of sleep covers the vast distribution of human sleep need
    • Genetic short sleepers (6 hours or less sleep need) are incredibly rare – you may be resilient but lack of sleep can lead to hypertension, impaired cognitive ability, immune system deficiencies, and more
    • The best REM sleep doesn’t enter the cycle until the last couple of hours of the night, you need a minimum amount of sleep to access it
  • Different stages of sleep have different benefits for your mind and body
    • Evolution would have eliminated certain cycles of sleep if they were not all important

Sleeping Tips

  • “The snooze button is the perennial expression of the human frustration of chronic lingering sleep debt” – Matthew Walker
    • Experiment: If you regularly set an alarm clock, would you wake up at that same relative time without the alarm clock?
    • If the answer is no, you’re not listening to your body’s needs and are probably running on a sleep deficit
  • Don’t force sleep, it’s dangerous to stay awake in bed for long periods of time
    • Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning: your brain will begin to bond a negative association with your bed and being awake
    • “You’d never sit at the dinner table waiting to get hungry, so why would you lie in bed waiting to get sleepy?” – Matthew Walker
  • The harder you try to sleep, the harder it becomes
    • Don’t count sheep, take yourself on a long mental journey. Take your mind off of itself.
    • Matthew loves racing cars, he guides himself through this activity as he falls asleep
  • Don’t try to catch up on sleep. If you’ve had a bad night of sleep, do not adjust your personal sleep schedule to compensate.
    • Don’t let one bad night of sleep compound into another
    • If you’re going to nap, make them brief (10-15min) and before 1pm
  • Have a wind-down routine before you go to bed, sleeping is not like a light switch
    • This could be stretching, meditating, taking a shower, etc.

Coffee, Caffeine & Alcohol

  • Drinking coffee is objectively good, the timing and dosage is the problem
    • Due to common diet deficiencies, the coffee bean often serves as a main provider of antioxidants
  • Caffeine has a half-life of five to six hours
    • If you have a cup of coffee at midday, 50% will be in your system at 6 pm and still 25% at midnight
    • Caffeine in the late day can reduce the amount of deep sleep you get by 20%-40% (stage three & four non-REM)
    • Cut off caffeine consumption 10 hours before bed
  • Alcohol is the opposite of a sleep aid, it is a sedative and sedation is not sleep
    • Alcohol can activate the fight or flight response system even while your sleeping–causing sleep fragmentation
    • Alcohol disrupts your REM sleep, this has many adverse downstream effects on the human body. For example, humans produce peak levels of testosterone and release growth hormones during REM sleep.

Insomnia & How to Sleep Better

  • Sleep-onset insomnia: the inability to fall asleep
  • Sleep-maintenance insomnia: the ability to fall asleep but difficulty staying asleep
  • Nonrestorative sleep: following normal sleep patterns but still feeling insufficiently refreshed
  • Insomnia is about 30% genetically inheritable, but mental distress is one of the greatest drivers of insomnia
    • Hyperarousal: over-active neurobiological and psychological systems contribute to difficulty sleeping
  • Matthew references Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) as a potential long-term treatment for insomnia
    • Teaches you to control your sleep, instead of your sleep controlling you
  • Matthew also references Sleep Restriction and Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia as a more independent form of treatment
    • Teaches your body to build up healthy sleepiness by limiting the amount of time in bed–the brain will become ‘hungry’ for sleep
    • Method for developing good sleep efficiency, the amount of time you are sleeping while in bed (target is 85% or better)
    • Spending time in bed awake is one of the worst things you can do
  • Learn more about your Chronotype and Ideal Sleep Schedule
    • Everyone has different peaks and troughs in their 24-hour circadian clock

Sleep Tracking

  • Metrics that Matthew uses for sleep tracking:
    • Sleep efficiency: the percentage of time in bed that you are sleeping. Target is 85%-90%.
    • Sleep latency: how long it takes to fall asleep. Falling asleep too quickly can imply a sleep debt.
    • REM/Non-REM sleep cycles
  • Orthosomnia: the anxiety of perfecting your sleep routine ends up being counterproductive
    • Sleep tracking can distort your psychology–what if you feel like you slept well, but your tracker says otherwise?
    • Gamifying your sleep can make you lose sight of the intrinsic benefits
  • Matthew tracks his sleep using an Oura Ring – it has the best data and accuracy on the market, the product design is also easy to use (he is affiliated with the company, FYI)
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Notes By Drew Waterstreet

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