A leading sleep scientist has given some excellent advice on how to cope with sleep.
Matthew Walker, who is the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley warns getting less than six hours shut eye can have serious consequences.
‘Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain,’ Walker says.
‘Many people walk through their lives in an underslept state, not realizing it.’
He notes, in an interview with US radio station NPR, sleep deficiency is associated with problems in concentration, memory and the immune system, and may even shorten life span.
On what you should do if you can’t sleep:
You should not actually stay in bed for very long awake, because your brain is this remarkably associative device and it quickly learns that the bed is about being awake. So you should go to another room — a room that’s dim. Just read a book — no screens, no phones — and only when you’re sleepy return to the bed. And that way your brain relearns the association with your bedroom being about sleep rather than wakefulness.
He also suggests meditating.
On whether you can make up for a sleep deficit by going to bed early another day:
You can’t really catch up on sleep. Sleep is not like the bank, so you can’t accumulate a debt and then try and pay it off at a later point in time.
On letting teenagers stay in bed on weekends:
He says: ‘Parents will often pull the covers off their teenager [on] weekends and say, “It’s daylight out! It’s noon! You’re wasting the day!” And that’s wrong for two reasons. … It’s not their fault; it’s their biology that wants them to be asleep at that time. But it’s more than that, because it also turns out that they are trying to sleep off a debt that we have actually saddled them with by way of this incessant model of early school start times. We have to abandon that attitude and we also have to change the educational practice as well’.
On how the quantity and quality of sleep decreases with age:
The amount of sleep — the total amount of sleep that you get — starts to decrease the older that we get. I think one of the myths out there is that we simply need less sleep as we age, and that’s not true, in fact. We need just as much sleep in our 60s, 70s [and] 80s, as we do when we’re in our 40s.
On using sleeping pill: They do not give you a normal sleep pattern.
Caffeine’s impact: It can stop you sleeping and if you do manage to get some shut eye it can stop you getting the all important deep sleep.
Alcohol’s impact: Alcohol knocks you out so denies you natural sleep. It also can cause you to have a fragmented night’s sleep. And it blocks your REM sleep where you dream which is crucial for your mental health.