When you have a nasty deadline or not just enough time to complete a task or assignment, burning the proverbial midnight oil might seem like a great idea. After all, you’ll recover the sleep arrears later, right?
Sleep expert Matt Walker warns that this is a dreadful idea. In his recent TED talk titled Sleep is Your Super Power, Walker reveals the test results of an experiment that his team carried out to test the theory that pulling an all-nighter was a good idea.
Watch The Full Video Here!
Veteran insomniacs know deep down in their bones that science has quite a lot to say about constant sleep deprivation. But Walker now insists that the effects may yet be more devastating than we thought.
His sleep-lab experiment found that men who routinely sleep for just 4-5hrs a night have testosterone levels of those who are ten years their senior. Therefore, a lack of sleep will effectively age a man by ten years in terms of critical wellness. A similar trend was also found in women in terms of their reproductive health.
Interestingly, we are the only animal species that deliberately deprive ourselves of sleep. All throughout evolution, Walker reminds us that mother nature has never developed “a safety net” for any of the health issues associated with sleep deprivation. The following is a glimpse of some of those effects on our brain and our bodies.
Sleep and Your Brain
Thanks to research, we have recently discovered that we need adequate sleep after learning to essentially “hit the save button” on those memories. But recently, Walker and his team of researchers have discovered that we also need adequate sleep before learning. We need to prepare our brains to be a sort of ‘dry sponge,’ ready to soak up new information. Without sleep, our brains essentially become “waterlogged” and may not absorb new memories.
During the experiment, the research team assigned two experimental groups; a sleep group which got a full 8 hours of shuteye, and a sleep deprivation group that was kept awake under full lab supervision. The following day, both the groups were placed inside an MRI scanner and then made to learn some new information. The goal was to establish the effectiveness of learning that both the groups had been exposed to.
Test results showed that without sleep, the brain’s ability to make new memories was reduced by 40%. This may well be considered as a learning disability and the difference between acing or flunking an exam.
The Hippocampus is a part of your brain that works as ‘an informational inbox.’ It receives new files and then holds on to them. The structure of the brain of the group showed a variety of healthy, learning-related activity. But the brains of the sleep-deprived group did not show any signal whatsoever. It was as if they’d shut down their memory ‘inbox’ and any new files just bounced off. They couldn’t commit new information to memory.
Even if you are skeptical about these scientific claims, you would naturally be curious to know what it is about a good night’s sleep that enhances and restore your brain’s memory and learning ability. To answer this question, Walker’s research team ran another experiment by placing electrodes all over the head of individuals who’d plunged into the deepest stages of sleep.
The team discovered that there were powerful brainwaves that happen during deep sleep. Electrical bursts of energy called sleep spindles ride on top of these waves. It is the combined quality of these deep sleep waves that function as a ‘file transfer’ mechanism at night. They essentially move files from a short term reservoir to a more permanent, long term storage site within the brain for safekeeping. Therefore, it is incredibly important to understand that it is during sleep that these “file transfers” take place.
One other way to look at this research is in mental ailments such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and even aging. It is, of course, no secret that, as we age, our memory and learning abilities begin to head south. Walker’s Sleep Center has moved their research into this area and has found that sleep may yet be the missing piece in the explanatory puzzle of these conditions.
Therefore, there’s a silver lining in the sense that we may now be able to do something about the effects of aging, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Walker warns that the best approach is not to use blunt tools like sleeping pills which do not produce naturalistic sleep. Instead, the team used a method called direct current brain stimulation, which they hope can be developed into smaller, technology gadgets and prescribed to patients of dementia and Alzheimer’s and the aging.
Sleep and Your Body
Your body is also not spared from the damaging effects of sleep deprivation. A lack of sleep is “like a leak leaking water pipe,” Walker says. The water eventually all over your house.
Walker makes a startling revelation about the potential effects of just a one-hour sleep loss on a global scale. He notes that a global sleep experiment is carried out twice a year, on over 1.6 billion people in more than 70 countries. That experiment is called Daylight Savings Time (DST).
Every Spring, when we lose one hour of sleep, there’s a 24% subsequent increase in the number of heart attacks all over the world. In Autumn, when we gain an hour of sleep, there’s a 21% decrease in the number of heart attacks. There are also significant changes in the number of road traffic accidents, suicide rates, and other statistics.
“You will Sleep When You Die”
Despite the humor and seeming wit often associated with this phrase, Walker warns that it is a terrible piece of advice.
It’s incredibly difficult to maintain top performance when we have a fragile state of health. Even our immunity is not spared from the debilitating effects of sleep. In another sleep lab experiment, Walker’s team measured the amount of Natural Killer Cells found in the body of individuals who’d had only four hours of sleep.
These killer cells act as “the secret service for our immune systems,” Walker says. They identify, attack, and kill various potentially harmful agents in the body. Therefore, what you want is a healthy set of these “immunity assassins.” Tragically, these assassins are significantly reduced (a 70% reduction) when you don’t get enough sleep.
Because of the disruption of sleep rhythms and the link between sleep and cancer, The World Health Organization (WHO) has even classified any night shift work as a probable carcinogen.
How Then Can You Start Getting Better Sleep?
Walker offers two practical tips; the first one is to have a regular sleep rhythm, that is, going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time, no matter what day of the week it is. The second tip is to keep cool. Your body drops its temperature by about 2-3 degrees to initiate sleep and to keep you asleep.
“Aim for a room temperature of 18 degrees Celsius or 65 degrees Fahrenheit,” Walker advises. You may know this from the fact that it is often easier to sleep in a cold room than it is to sleep in a warm or hot room.
Sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity rather than a luxury. Walker’s TED Talk challenges us to reclaim our right to a full night’s sleep without the embarrassing stigma that often links it with laziness.
Sleep and its importance are one of the things that we talk about in our high-performance program, we have over at Udemy. If you want to get it at a massive discount, it is normally a $200 program but you can get it for around $10, if you go to highperformancekw.com If you want to grab a copy of that, it has one module by our friend Shawn Stevenson who wrote a book called Sleep Smarter, and there are twenty-one tips on how to optimize your sleep in that program.
A good night’s sleep is the only way to tap into “the elixir of life,” as Walker puts it.
To Your Success,
Jairek Robbins + Team PCU
Ready to level up your coaching and leadership game? Want to make a big impact in the lives of others? Add more power to your purpose with our 12-week online Performance Coach certification course. Apply here: Course overview & Application!
***Matt Walker is a professor, sleep scientist, author and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science.