How Sleep Can Change Your Life
Tl;dr: sleep quality is directly proportional to health, wealth, and happiness.
Sleep Is Amazing
A good friend of mine one day told me the following: “sleep is more important than food or water to survive. You could go two or three days without water and a week without food, but you can’t go more than 48 hours without rest.”
I thought about it. While the longest record without sleep is 11 days, I agreed with my friend.
There can be upsides to restrict certain healthy practices such as eating for example, but no one has ever said “I’m going to skip this night to cleanse myself”.
Since sleep was a topic I wanted to write about for a long time, I started doing some research and read Matthew Walker’s acclaimed (and let’s be honest, scientifically contested) book “Why we sleep”.
In his book, Walker does everything but answering his research question which is the title of the book.
It still gave a broad overview of what we do when we sleep, so without any further ado, here’s what I picked up from the book.
Why Do We Sleep
So…why do we sleep? I’d tend to answer that we sleep to maintain our body (and mind) in good condition.
If you go to the gym (and you should), you make new muscle when you sleep.
If you’re 8 years old, you grow up when you sleep.
If you have learned something repeatedly, you transfer your memories stored in the short-term compartment to the long-term compartment of the brain.
If you hurt yourself, you repair your body when you sleep.
If you have been learning piano and were struggling to play a difficult part of your song, you develop the capacity to play it…when you sleep.
Another fascinating function of sleep is the processing of emotional experiences.
Any emotional shock will remain with you if not processed by your brain, and sleep does that.
People with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) suffer from an incapability to process their memories because they are so extreme that the brain, triggered by the strength of the memory, secretes a hormone called noradrenaline which prevents the processing of the emotion attached to the memory.
Medicine has shown to suppress the noradrenaline secretion which helped people process these emotions while sleeping and get rid of their PTSD.
When (if?) you think during the day, your brain produces waste that it needs to get rid of at some point.
It does so while sleeping.
It has been shown that a failure to get rid of this waste will see these proteins accumulating in the brain and pressuring some parts of it, impairing their function.
It seems to be the case for Alzheimer’s and memory.
The author, therefore, supposes that Alzheimer’s could be triggered by a lack of sleep.
Finally, a last great advantage of sleep is this extreme creativity that you have when you dream, floating in an almost different dimension which allows you to access part of your brain you normally don’t have access to and to solve complex problems.
Edison, for example, had noticed this and designed a system to wake himself up when he’d fall asleep during a dream-state period. He’d subsequently write down what he was dreaming about.
Why You Should Sleep
Needless to say, this book changed my life.
I used to believe that sleep was a waste of time.
Now I understand how I can use sleep to reinforce my daily skills and competencies.
When I feel tired, I don’t fight it anymore and fully indulge in my sleep, ready to spend it in the best way possible.
As you can imagine, a lack of sleep is as destructive as enough sleep is helpful.
People experiencing a lack of sleep are moody, can’t think straight, are more likely to have a car accident or commit a felony.
A lack of sleep decreases your overall physical and mental ability but also in the long term, increases your chances to develop mental degenerative diseases, increases blood pressure, speeds up aging, and metabolically ages you for up to 10 years.
It makes you eat more and burn fat less.
Sleeping is an all or nothing activity.
The advantages you get from it are awesome if you do it well.
The disadvantages are terrible if you do it wrong.
Knowing that on top of my experience, I came to believe that sleep is by far, the most important pillar of health.
Sleep is the basics, it is the structure that will help you ground the three other pillars of health and happiness.
Ignore it and you will suffer the consequences.
In another article, I’ll talk about the second pillar of health and happiness: food.