AMA #2 With Sleep Expert Dr. Matthew Walker – The Peter Attia Drive

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Key Takeaways

  • A tiny percentage of people have the DEC2 gene, a genetic mutation that produces a short sleeping phenotype
    • “The probability that you are a DEC2 carrier is very low… You’re far more likely to be struck by lightning in your lifetime.”Dr. Matthew Walker
    • People with the DEC2 gene only need ~6.25 hours of sleep per night
  • The average American adult is sleeping 6 hours and 31 minutes per night 
  • “It makes me think about the term ‘midnight’ and what it actually means. Midnight actually means ‘middle of the night,’ and it is when you let yourself sleep in harmony with the natural edict. But for must of us, that’s the time when we send our last tweet or check our email for the last time.” – Dr. Matthew Walker

Intro

Does everyone need 8 hours of sleep/night?

  • A tiny percentage of people have the DEC2 gene, a genetic mutation that produces a short sleeping phenotype
    • In other terms, these people have a lower need for sleep
    • “The probability that you are a DEC2 carrier is very low… You’re far more likely to be struck by lightning in your lifetime.” – Dr. Matthew Walker
  • How much do DEC2 individuals sleep?
    • If taken into a sleep lab, without their phones, and if allowed to sleep as much as they want/can, they tend to sleep 6.25 hours per night
      • “This is not your 5 hours or 4 hours, and this is the genetic mutant that’s a short sleeper! They’re getting 6.25 hours.” – Dr. Matthew Walker
      • As background, if you did this with an average person without the DEC2 gene, they’d sleep between 7.5-9.5 hours/night (and they’d go to bed much earlier – around 9-9:30 AM)
        • “It makes me think about the term ‘midnight’ and what it actually means. Midnight actually means ‘middle of the night,’ and it is when you let yourself sleep in harmony with the natural edict. But for must of us, that’s the time when we send our last tweet or check our email for the last time.”Dr. Matthew Walker
    • The average American adult is sleeping 6 hours and 31 minutes per night 
      • Thus – a genetic mutant only needs a few minutes of less sleep than what the average of the population is getting
  • Perhaps people with the DEC2 mutation are just more efficient at clearing away adenosine (the hormone that builds up during the day and makes you sleepy)
    • For reference, caffeine blocks the effects of adenosine

Are there any health consequences of having the DEC2 gene?

  • We don’t know
    • Firstly, we haven’t known about this genetic mutation for very long and thus haven’t been able to track disease rates
    • Also, a VERY small percentage of the population have the mutation, so it’s hard to make statistical sense of data

Sleep With Age

  • As we age, we tend not to be able to get the sleep we truly need
  • Why?
    • The parts of the brain that deteriorate with aging tend to be those associated with deep sleep generation (particularly the middle part of the prefrontal cortex)

You Need All Stages of Sleep

  • If there were any stage of sleep that could have been weeded out with evolution, mother nature would have done so hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years ago
  • A sleep study from the 80s deprived rats of sleep until they died:
    • There were 3 groups:
      • One group was totally sleep-deprived
      • The second group was deprived of non-REM sleep (AKA deep sleep)
      • The third group was deprived of REM sleep
    • Findings:
      • The first group died quickest (about as fast as you would from food deprivation, 9-11 days)
        • Conclusion: “Sleep is just as essential as food in terms of life support” Dr. Matthew Walker
      • The third group died almost as quickly as the first group
      • The second group took ~60% longer to die
    • Given the above: “In terms of a life support system, which stage of sleep is more important? On the basis of this data, you’d argue that REM sleep is the more life-essential ingredient.” – Dr. Matthew Walker

Additional Notes

  • Peter and Matt spent the previous few days doing some motorsport racing
    • Ernest Hemmingway has said – “There are only 3 sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering. The rest are all games.”
  • “When you first wake up in the morning, there are 1 or 2 slivers of seconds of time where you remember nothing about yesterday – none of your trouble or difficulties. You remember none of the anxiety. It’s just you in that moment, and it lasts so briefly.” Dr. Matthew Walker
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