What is sleep? Dr. Mathew Walker, who is a neuroscientist and psychologist at UC Berkeley, describes sleep as “the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body health.” Yet many people around the world have the idea that they can attack life at full speed, day after day, with terrible recovery habits. Regardless of what you tell yourself when you wake up for work after a 4-hour, alcohol-induced coma, you are not prepared to conquer life that day. If this sounds like a normal night’s rest for you, then the old saying “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” should not hold any comedic value, because it might very well be your approaching reality.
Now, I am certainly not preaching that you should not enjoy life and leisure while you are on this planet. However, I am a huge advocate of the idea that you can start optimizing your life right now, to promote health and longevity into your old age. Rather than living fast and dying young, I want you to enjoy life to its fullest potential over many decades. To actualize this reality, recovery needs to be prioritized up there with exercise and nutrition. Proper sleep is the anchor of that recovery process.
A fascinating point that Dr. Walker brings up is that our bodies essentially turn off when we sleep. We are not conscious, we cannot reproduce, or defend or nourish ourselves, yet humans have evolved over millions of years with sleep as one of the primary foundations of life. There is something to be said about this thought. Most of us don’t consider what happens while we sleep, but recent studies might wake us up to reality.
Dr. Walker says “the paradox is that we go to bed, we lose consciousness for 7-9 hours, and then we wake up in the morning and we generally feel better. In some ways that denies the physiological and biological beauty of sleep. Upstairs in your brain when you're going through these different stages of sleep, the changes in brainwave activity are far more dramatic than those that we see when we’re awake.” Your brain is in full force when you sleep, and the majority of the things we learn are downloaded while we rest our eyes.
Your lifestyle habits are never set in stone. You must work to better them every day, regardless of your current physical state. Beginning tonight, I challenge you to be mindful of your sleep patterns from here on out. If there is room for improvement in your nighttime ritual, then there is room for growth as a complete human. Start attacking your sleep ritual like you would a new diet or exercise routine. Your well-being depends on it.
“Men who routinely sleep 4-5 hours per night, will have a level of testosterone, which is that of someone 10 years their senior. Lack of sleep will age a man by a decade in terms of that critical aspect of wellness.” -Matt Walker