'Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our life, health and longevity and yet it is increasingly neglected in twenty-first-century society, with devastating consequences: every major disease in the developed world - Alzheimer's, cancer, obesity, diabetes - has very strong causal links to deficient sleep.'
- Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker
Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, or what good it served, or why its absence is so damaging to our health. Compared to the other basic drives in life - eating, drinking, and reproducing - the purpose of sleep remained elusive. Now, scientific expert, Professor Matthew Walker, explores twenty years of cutting-edge research to solve the mystery of why sleep matters. Looking at creatures from across the animal kingdom as well as major human studies, Why We Sleep delves in to everything from what really happens during REM sleep to how caffeine and alcohol affect sleep and why our sleep patterns change across a lifetime, transforming our appreciation of the extraordinary phenomenon that safeguards our existence.
Check out the book for yourself here if you want to explore the topic in detail or simply read on for 10 of the key take aways from the book.
1. Keep your phone outside the bedroom
Why this works:
• Eliminates jarring sounds/vibrations
• Hides the prompt to check your phone (blue light + emotional triggers destroy sleep)
2. Reduce stress via exercise and meditation
The impact of exercise on sleep:
• Fall asleep up to 13 mins faster
• Stay asleep 18 mins longer
Caveat: Avoid exercising 2-3 hrs before bed because this leads to increased heart rate + body temp may delay sleep
3. Limit blue light exposure
Our phone screens and monitors emit blue light. It suppresses melatonin, a chemical that makes us sleepy. So, you’ll want to limit blue light as you approach sleep
You can use device filters to regulate blue light
Here are some popular options:
Apple Mobile (Night Shift) + Desktop (f.lux)
Android Mobile (Twilight App)
Windows 11 Desktop (Night Light)
In addition to phones and monitors, traditional light bulbs emit blue light (while smart lightbulbs offer full spectrum control). Starting late afternoon, try to control smart bulbs to warmer tones or try another popular option: blue light blocking glasses
4. Avoid naps >30 mins and past 3pm
Studies show that effective napping is two-fold:
• Length: Naps >30 mins might put you in REM, inducing sleep inertia (grogginess)
• Time of day: Napping past 3pm often hurts evening sleep
Find your sweet spot of length and time through trial and taking note
5. Avoid caffeine within 6 hrs of bedtime
Figure out your average bedtime and subtract 6 hrs. So, if you go to bed at 10pm, it's best to stop consuming caffeine at 4pm. To make progress from today, try switching to decaf in the afternoon
6. Limit alcohol intake
Alcohol is not a good sleep aid. While it may help you fall asleep more quickly, alcohol will reduce REM sleep. Studies have shown that 2 servings for men per day and 1 for women can decrease sleep quality by 9.3%. If you can, stop drinking 4 hrs before bedtime as this helps to lower the impact
7. Eat dinner at least 2-3 hrs before bedtime; avoid heavy meals
Bodily discomfort reduces your chances of falling asleep. Be intentional about what & when you eat so you don't end up rolling around in bed, not able to feel totally at ease because you're full (we've all been there)
8. Limit light with blackout shades
Remember how we mentioned blue light earlier? Well, daylight is blue light. So, if your sleep schedule deviates from the natural rhythm of the sun, or you live in a flashy city, optimise your bedroom with blackout shades or try an eye mask
9. Create a noise-canceling environment
Wherever possible, avoid sleeping in a place with noisy housemates, partying, street sirens (easier said than done at times, we feel your pain). Consider a noise-masking device, like a white noise machine or an Alexa which can play the sound of rain.
Noticing a common theme here? Sleep is often as simple as eliminating that which prevents you from it.
10. Prioritise the quality of your mattress and pillow
We spend one-third of our lives in bed! Wherever possible, try not to underinvest in that experience. Take note of the bedding that makes you feel most relaxed and remember that when you next come to purchasing things for your bedroom.
We love soft, white sheets, a reasonably thin pillow so our necks aren't too crooked and enjoy a few minutes of a soft flickering candle by the side of our bed before we drift off! zzz