In the sleep space, Matthew Walker is one of the trailblazers. He’s a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkley, and is considered one of the world’s leading experts on sleep. His popular book Why We Sleep became an international bestseller, and has influenced the way we, here at Wesper, approach sleep.
In this article we’re going to take a deep dive into Matthew Walker’s sleep advice. What does Matthew Walker say about snoring? Body positions? Sleep apnea? How can you use this advice to sleep deeper, for longer, with better results?
Introducing: Why We Sleep
Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep became an instant bestseller in the U.S. and UK, and has since been translated into Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. The book is one of the first to do an in-depth analysis on the role of sleep in our lives, drawing an eye-opening conclusion.
This conclusion was that sleep deprivation increases your risk of disease – from metabolic to neurological – and as such, ensuring high quality sleep is essential to your health and happiness.
As quoted “The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span.”
The book outlines:
- The stages of sleep – REM and NREM
- The role of sleep – for information processing, reflection and integration of the thoughts and ideas of the previous day.
- How we sleep – we sleep in a monophasic pattern – long, single bouts of sleep during the night. This is analyzed from a socio-cultural standpoint, comparing the way we sleep in the west to other areas of the world. Some hunter-gatherer tribes sleep in a biphasic pattern – shorter sleeping at night with a nap during the day. Those who sleep in a monophasic pattern, live longer.
- The need for sleep – for emotional processing, creativity, memory, concentration, work performance, and to reduce disease risk.
- The dangers of sleep deprivation – Walker covers a number of studies that all conclude that the less sleep we get, the more at risk we are for developing disease, illness and experiencing accidental dangers like car crashes.
If you’re interested in hearing more about the book, check out Matthew Walker’s TED Talk Sleep is Your Superpower.
How to improve your sleep
Now let’s get to the advice from Walker’s book that you can use in your daily lives to sleep better.
Drinking an alcoholic beverage before sleep may give you the illusion that you are falling asleep more easily, but in reality, it’s having a negative effect on your sleep.
Adenosine is a sleep-inducing chemical that is released in the brain when you drink alcohol, responsible for helping you to fall asleep quickly. However, when this chemical is depleted, you wake up. This is just one of the mechanisms involved in alcohol’s negative effect on sleep.
Plus, studies have shown that alcohol exacerbates the symptoms of sleep apnea. Drinking alcohol also increases the risk of developing sleep apnea by 25 percent. This is because it interferes with the natural sleep cycle and can worsen apneatic events.
Listen to your body
More specifically, listen to your snores! According to Matthew Walker, if you snore, it’s an indication that you are suffering from sleep apnea. An estimated 45 percent of adults snore occasionally, and 25 percent snore regularly. Risk factors for snoring include being a man, being overweight, drinking alcohol, and having nasal problems.
These are all the same risk factors for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea affects 26 percent of adults over 30, and shouldn’t be ignored. So if you are snoring regularly, it’s time to seek advice.
Seek professional advice
Continuing from the last point, Matthew Walker also reinforces the dangers of self-medicating when it comes to treating sleep conditions like insomnia or snoring. Nearly 9 million U.S. adults take prescription sleeping pills, including 1 in every 3 older adults in the U.S. today.
The issue with sleeping pills is that they don’t get to the root of the problem, and over time, can worsen sleep quality. According to Walker, “no sleeping medication induces natural sleep”. In fact, in a study published in 2012, the people who took sleeping pills were five times more likely to die in the two-and-a-half year study than those who weren’t.
Sleeping pills may seem like an obvious choice for someone struggling with their sleep, but you may have an undiagnosed medical condition like sleep apnea that needs treating.
Wesper offers home sleep testing for people struggling with their sleep. After the home test, you will consult with a sleep specialist who can diagnose your condition or recommend personalized advice to help you sleep. Click here to learn more.
Adjust your sleeping position
According to Matthew Walker, there are four main sleeping positions:
- Side sleeping
- Back sleeping
- Stomach sleeping
- Fetal position
Each of these has pros and cons depending on the person practicing it. For example, sleeping on your side has been shown to reduce heartburn and acid reflux by keeping your esophageal sphincter closed. However, it can cause alignment issues and is linked to lower back pain.
Similarly, sleeping on your stomach is the best for people with sleep apnea because it minimizes the risk of obstructed airflow. However, this isn’t practical if you are wearing a CPAP mask, or if you are obese.
In general, for a healthy individual, back-sleeping is recommended as it supports your spine. But if you struggle with sleep apnea or snoring, this is one of the worst sleeping positions as it blocks the airways and restricts airflow. These individuals should opt for side sleeping instead.
Avoid the screens
We all have a natural circadian rhythm – the release of certain hormones to encourage sleep in the evening when it’s dark outside, and to awaken us in the morning when it’s light outside. It’s our body’s alarm clock. But aspects of our modern lives interfere with this.
For example, blue light exposure (the type that comes from our phones and TVs) suppresses melatonin by over 50 percent, and delays this release by up to three hours. This prevents you from feeling tired and drifting off to sleep easily. Avoiding the screens at least an hour or two before bed can help to regulate the circadian rhythm.
Matthew Walker has transformed the way many of us approach sleeping. We sleep for 26 years of our life and spend seven just trying to fall asleep. For those who struggle with insomnia or sleep apnea, these statistics are switched. You may feel like you spent hours just trying to fall asleep, only achieving a few fleeting moments each night.
We hope this article helped you to understand the role of sleep and how you can use Matthew Walker’s sleep advice as part of your daily routine to sleep easier, for longer, and get more out of life.