I’ve been working on a project of creating a self-help PDF on ways to improve your sleep from a yoga perspective. Originally my interest stemmed from the fact that I, like many of you, struggled with episodes of insomnia in my life. It was particularly bad for me in my more anxious youth, before I met yoga, and I would overthink many nights into oblivion. Fast forward to now, with many years of practicing yoga, meditation, and plenty of learning about how to improve my sleep, and I can say my episodes of insomnia are much less and much more manageable.
One of the most influential sources of motivation that brought me to a turning point of taking my sleep health more seriously was hearing an interview with sleep expert and researcher Matthew Walker. You can find many lectures, podcasts, and written work by him, but ultimately his message is loud and clear—you need to prioritize your sleep way more, as the lack of sleep is literally killing you! Until delving into his work, I always assumed I could catch up after a bad night or two, but after perusing Walker’s work, I realized this couldn’t be further from the truth. His research shows anything less than 7 hours of sleep, for most adults, is sleep deprivation, and there are major health consequences when we don’t get this amount of sleep. In fact, there does not seem to be one major organ within the body, or process within the brain, that isn’t optimally enhanced by sleep (and detrimentally impaired when we don’t get enough). So in this blog I want to share some of his more poignant points about why you need to take getting a good night’s sleep more seriously:
-Drowsy driving is the cause of hundreds of thousands of traffic accidents and fatalities each year. Tragically, one person dies in a traffic accident every hour in the United States due to a fatigue-related error, in fact, vehicle accidents caused by drowsy driving exceed those caused by alcohol and drugs combined.
-Sleep enriches a diversity of memory functions, including our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions and choices. Without the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night, studies show severely reduced capacity in all memory functions.
-Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
-Sleep deprivation degrades cardiovascular health. Shorter sleep was associated with a 45 percent increased risk of developing and/or dying from coronary heart disease. Adults forty-five years or older who sleep fewer than six hours a night are 200 percent more likely to have a heart attack or stroke during their lifetime, as compared with those sleeping seven to eight hours a night.
-Sleep disruption contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality. Sleep recalibrates our emotional brain circuits, allowing us to navigate next-day social and psychological challenges.
-Dreams help mollify painful memories and provide a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge, inspiring creativity.
-Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. In the body, sleep restocks the immune system, helping fight malignancy, preventing infection, and warding off colds and flus.
-Sleep deprivation affects hormone balance in both males and females affecting reproductive capability.
-Inadequate sleep—even moderate reductions for just one week—disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic.
-Weight gain is associated with poor sleep. Too little sleep swells concentrations of a hormone that makes you feel hungry while suppressing a companion hormone that otherwise signals food satisfaction.
-Sleep deprivation ages our skin and we literally look less attractive from it.
If you find these points intriguing, I strongly suggest you check out some of Matthew Walker’s work, starting with his very informative TED talk: Sleep is Your Superpower. My hope is to motivate you to prioritize your sleep more, as it has been a huge omission in the public health education for mind and body health—it is just as important as the type of food you eat and the amount of exercise you get, yet regularly under-considered. Don’t doubt all manner of health can be helped with a regular sleep schedule, and if you are ready to get started on improving your nightly zzz’s, I look forward to sharing more information on how to improve your sleep through yoga and other tips in the PDF I have coming out in the fall.