In a recent episode of The Drive, host Peter Attia, M.D. spoke with Matthew Walker, Ph. D. (author of “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams”) about the benefits of sleep, and how we as a society underestimate the importance of it.
“It’s a performance-enhancing drug, it’s a life insurance policy,” says Walker. “It’s the most democratic healthcare insurance policy you can get. And I’ve often described sleep as mother nature’s best effort yet at immortality. If you look at the data, there’s nothing better out there that can give you that chance.”
The Health Benefits of Sleeping
According to Walker, sleep is the “Archimedes lever” that when pulled, can potentially ensure that you live a longer, healthier life. But because sleep is viewed as something we “have to do” instead of something we “want to do,” not enough people are recognizing the flurry of health benefits that come with prioritizing a good sleep practice. Some of which include:
- Reduce stress and improve your mood
- Think more clearly and improve your memory
- Strengthen your immune system
- Regulate your blood sugar
On the flip-side, sleep deprivation is linked to a shorter lifespan and a host of diseases like cancer and heart diseases. Not getting enough sleep severely impacts your metabolism, cardiovascular system, reproductive system, immune system, cancer growth and inflammation.
Not only that, sleep deprivation affects your ability to think clearly, react quickly, and create memories. In fact, the pathways in the brain that help us learn and remember are very active when we sleep. Conversely, cutting down on sleep slows your response time. Studies also find that when you lack sleep, you are more likely to make bad decisions and take more risks. This can result in lower performance on the job or in school, and a greater risk for a car crash.
Don't Drive Drowsy
And this is a huge takeaway from Walker’s book: Like alcohol, a lack of sleep makes it harder to react quickly enough to a suddenly braking car, a sharp curve in the road, or other potentially dangerous situations. When sleep deprived, our ability to concentrate is compromised. And because of this inability to focus, fatigue-related traffic accidents are responsible for roughly 6400 deaths annually.
Walker goes one step further in the podcast in his episode of The Drive by mentioning that sleep deprivation should be better addressed as a public health problem.
“When was the last time any major first world country had a massive public health campaign regarding sleep?,” asks Walker. “The relief of healthcare burden that would happen if we could live longer, healthier by way of sleep, the cost savings could be enormous.”
Walker’s argument in favor of getting better at sleep is hard to debate: Better health, better focus and potential economical rewards at a societal level. So in case you had a rough night of sleep last night, maybe it’s time to stop thinking of sleep as something you have to do, and start thinking of sleep as something you want to do.