Sleep: The Greatest Healthcare Insurance Policy in The World
If you’re looking to live a long and healthy life, sleep might just be the single most important ingredient of all. This isn’t rocket science — doctors have known that sleep is essential for our health, happiness, and well-being for a great many years. But thanks to the many miracles of modern science, it’s become possible to measure more accurately than ever the many benefits of sleep — and the devastating effects of sleep deprivation — on our biological mechanisms, and the implications are remarkable.
Read on to learn some extremely practical tips on how to radically improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. But first, let’s take a look at why sleep is so important.
Why Sleep Is So Important
If you’re an overachiever, you might think that spending a third of your life sleeping is a waste of time, especially when time is short and there’s so much to do. And while that sentiment is certainly understandable, sleep is absolutely crucial to function, let alone peak performance.
Studies have shown that 79% of people in the United States sleep less than the recommended eight hours each night, and unfortunately, when adults routinely start to get less than eight hours of sleep per night, the risk for serious medical conditions increases significantly. Once you get below seven hours of sleep, the brain stops being able to perform in a cognitively optimal way and makes you more vulnerable to a long list of serious health problems, including:
Type 2 diabetes
Hypertension and high blood pressure
Alzheimer’s and dementia
Depression and anxiety
Decreased sexual energy
When it comes to sleep, there’s no greater authority than Dr. Matthew Walker, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley and the founder-director of the Center for Human Sleep Science. He has conducted much of the recent groundbreaking research on sleep, and sums up its importance rather bluntly: “The shorter you sleep, the shorter your lifespan,” also calling it “the greatest healthcare policy that’s freely available to society.”
Dr. Walker’s Prescription for a Great Night’s Sleep
As the most persuasive sleep evangelist in the world, Dr. Walker has a few tips and tricks for improving your sleep:
Assess whether or not you’re getting enough sleep. One simple way to do this is to ask yourself if you would sleep past your alarm if it did not go off in the morning. If you would, then your brain isn’t done with sleep and you need more. Another way to tell that your body needs more sleep is if you sleep longer on the weekends (or on days you aren’t working) than you do during the week.
If sleep deprivation is extreme, consult a doctor. If you suspect you might have a sleep disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea, ask your doctor for a referral to a sleep clinic where they can assess if you need a CPAP machine or mandibular advancement device, which can help your sleep from being interrupted.
Set a regular bedtime and wake up time. Your brain is designed for regularity, so if you set a regular sleep schedule, the quantity and quality of your sleep will improve. If you’re not sure what the right sleep schedule is for you, Dr. Walker suggests imagining that you’re alone on a desert island, and then asking yourself what time do you think you’d end up going to bed, and what time you’d wake up.
Give yourself a long enough sleep opportunity. For most people, it takes a little bit of time before they’re able to fall asleep — not to mention the periods of wakefulness throughout the night. Be sure to account for that time when you’re figuring out your bedtime and waketime. For instance, if your goal is to sleep 7 hours, allow yourself 8 or 8.5 hours of sleep opportunity.
Improve the quality of your sleep, not just the quantity. There are certain things you can do to get better sleep, including setting your bedroom temperature to 65-67 degrees Fahrenheit, avoiding going to bed too hungry or too full, and avoiding things like coffee and alcohol too late in the evening.
Put down your phone. Having your phone or tablet in your bedroom makes it all-that much easier to procrastinate going to sleep. Your devices also emit a blue LED light, which “fools your brain into thinking it's still daytime,” says Dr Walker, which delays the release of melatonin. He suggests avoiding electronics, turning down the lights in your home when it's close to bedtime, and wearing a blackout mask to block out any light.
Sleep and Technology
While the list above may lead you to believe that technology is the enemy when it comes to sleep, it definitely is not. In fact, Dr. Walker thinks it could be “the salvation of us” and expects to see a vast amount of innovation in sleep technology in the very near future.
But if you’re looking for technology that can help you sleep now, Dr. Walker recommends sleep trackers. One sleep tracker that millions of people swear by, including Life Force co-author Dr. Peter Diamandis, is the Oura Ring, a wearable device that provides precious insights into the many ways in which our own behavior affects our sleep, helping you to make better decisions daily.
Another tool, an app called Somtryst, is an FDA-approved prescription-only “digital therapeutic” for adults wrestling with chronic insomnia. Over 6-9 weeks, the app guides you through a program based on cognitive behavioral therapy, helping you to identify and change the thought patterns that lead to sleep disruption. Whatever your solution may be when it comes to your sleep, always remember that focus creates change — and what you measure tends to improve.