A Wake-Up Call: Let’s Talk about Sleep!

Does this sound like an odd topic for a blog about my journey as a reader and a writer? Please keep reading.

Just as reading The Bill of Obligations, by Richard Haass, prompted me to dedicate an entire blog post to that one book a couple of weeks ago Taking a look at The Bill of Obligations, by Richard Haass, I’ve since read a book that deserves its on post:  Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker, Ph.D.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker, Ph.D.

This is a fascinating book! Who wants to read about sleep? We all should. Most of us don’t get it right. I’ll just hit on some of the highlights or items I found most interesting – or frightening – in the book.

Studies have proven that humans need eight hours of sleep a day. The last two hours of our sleep is when our brains get a memory boost. When we jump start our day by getting up after just six hours of sleep, our concentration and physical limits suffer. Getting less than six hours of sleep is equivalent of going without sleep for 24 hours.

Photo by Hernan Sanchez on Unsplash

Dr. Walker states, “You do not know how sleep-deprived you are when you are sleep deprived.” Driving while sleep-deprived is as dangerous – or even more dangerous – than driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Falling asleep at the wheel for two seconds at 30 mph, your vehicle can completely change lanes. An alcohol-impaired driver’s reactions are slow, but a sleeping driver has no reaction.

Dr. Walker says we should not fool ourselves into thinking we can force ourselves to stay awake while driving by turning up the music or opening a car window. Those – and all other such coping practices we’ve probably all used more times than we want to admit – are all myths.

He says we are also only kidding ourselves when we think we can “catch up” on our sleep on the weekend. If we’ve lost sleep during the week, it takes more than three nights of eights of sleep for our brain to get back to the level of performance it had early in the week.

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Although professional athletes team decision-makers can be told how important it is for players to get eight hours of sleep a day in order to be at peak physical and mental performance, few athletes get the sleep they need. Furthermore, getting adequate sleep after a game is even more important than it is prior to a competition because sleep is necessary for a body to recover from the toll a game takes on a body.

Also, Dr. Walker says that getting adequate sleep for several nights or a week prior to getting an influenza vaccine is necessary for a person to get the full immune benefits from the shot.

The second category of findings that grabbed my attention is that a lack of sleep is fast being recognized as a key factor in whether a person will develop Alzheimer’s Disease. He cautions that sleep is not a “magic bullet” against Alzheimer’s Disease, but there are some interesting associations.

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A study found that those people with the most amyloid deposits in the frontal part of the brain also had the least deep end-Rem sleep and, therefore, had the least sleep state in which new memories are cemented.

The lymphatic system sanitizes the brain during sleep. Amyloid protein is removed – as well as tau – in this process which takes place in the last two hours of an eight-hour sleep cycle. Amyloid and tau are associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. This becomes a vicious cycle if you’re not getting enough deep sleep:  more amyloid and tau build up leads to Alzheimer’s Disease, which leads to more amyloid and tau buildup, which leads to worsening of Alzheimer’s Disease, etc.

Dr. Walker addresses those individuals who claim they can get along well – even perfectly – on as little as four or five hours of sleep a day. He says they are only fooling themselves. He points out that US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher both made such claims. They both ended up with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The book also talks about sleep and its relation to cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. He says, “Sleep is the bedrock for health.” Sleeping less than six hours a day increases one’s chances of heart trouble by 400%.

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The third area of study explained in the book that struck a chord with me was the section about melatonin, electric lights, LED lights, and the short-spectrum blue lights given off by our electronic devices.

The advent of the electric light bulb enabled humans to change night into day in many respects. By doing so, we’ve forced our naturally-made melatonin (which signals our bodies that it’s time to start winding down because it’s getting dark and it’s time to go to sleep) to be delayed by several hours.

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Dr. Walker warns of the harm looking at an electronic tablet late at night is doing more damage to our sleep patterns than we realize. If we look at a tablet until 11:00 pm and then go to bed, our natural melatonin might not kick in for two or three more hours instead of when it should have kicked in – say around nine or ten o’clock.

Have I gotten your attention?

I hope I have hit on some things that made you stop and think. Do you get adequate sleep?

I don’t. I haven’t had a night of restorative sleep since I became ill with chronic fatigue syndrome in 1987. My circadian rhythm is way out of rhythm. I paid for a number of appointments with a sleep specialist a few years ago. Dr. Walker’s book reiterates everything she told me. She told me to dim the lights for 90 minutes before going to bed, to keep my distance from a TV during that time, and to not under any circumstances use the computer or my tablet before going to bed.

The instructions Dr. Daley gave me were tough, but they worked. Eventually, after working on my bad habits for months, I was able to usually go to sleep by 1:00 a.m. instead of 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. I gradually fell back into old habits, though, and now I rarely fall asleep before 2:00 a.m. It’s a daily battle for me to fall asleep. Once I’m asleep, it’s equally as difficult to wake up.

Listening to Dr. Walker’s book – parts of it several times – has reminded me about the damage I’m doing to my health – to my brain, heart, and other organs – in the short term and in the long term.

It won’t be easy, but I must once again train myself to stop sabotaging my health.

I don’t expect or even aspire to ever being someone who goes to bed by 10:00 p.m. so I can wake up refreshed by 7:00 a.m. My physical maladies will never allow me to have restful sleep, but some of my late-night habits aren’t helping matters.

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I need to get back to the light dimming practices, etc. that Dr. Daley recommended so I’ll at least have a chance to get eight hours of sleep every day.

Since my last blog post

Being a writer of historical fiction gives me excuses to do things I wouldn’t otherwise do. If I’m going to have characters in my 18th century novels cooking in a fireplace, I need to know what that was like. I spent the day on Saturday at Hart Square Village near Vale, North Carolina, learning how to cook over an open fire in an 1800s kitchen (which wasn’t easy after only three hours of sleep!).

If you want to hear about my adventure, sign up for my newsletter by visiting my website (https://www.janetmorrisonbooks.com) and clicking on the “Subscribe” button. I’ll write about Saturday’s experience in my Janet Morrison Books Newsletter in July. It was quite am enjoyable day, but I was happy to come home that afternoon to my electric kitchen appliances!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a fascinating book to read. Please consider reading Dr. Walker’s book, if you tend to not get a full eight hours of sleep every night.

Make time for friends and family – and sleep!

Remember the brave people of Ukraine.