An excerpt from Dr. Walker’s book reads “Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks, stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed and less anxious. Are you interested?” The evidence to back up these claims has been well documented. You just need adequate sleep.
Unfortunately, 1 in 3 US adults fail to achieve the absolute minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night.
Insufficient sleep impacts all the major physiological systems of the body, this includes our cardiovascular, immune, reproductive, and metabolic systems. Lack of sleep increases our risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dementia. Insufficient sleep also shortens our lifespan.
I screen every patient for sleep quality and length. In my experience, many patients dismiss lack of sleep as a possible root cause of disease, they want to talk about "more important" things such as changing their diet. I am here to tell you, sleep is just as important (likely more so!) than what you eat. I am often debunking common misconceptions about sleep. Some think they can just ‘make it up’ on the weekends (spoiler, you can’t!). Others feel they function "great" on less than 7 hours of sleep. We even have a new term ‘revenge bedtime procrastination' because so many of us are staying up late looking for a little downtime in our busy schedules and missing out on critical sleep time.
Sleep is the fundamental need for our bodies that all other aspects of our health are built on. If you read this far and you still think that you can skimp on sleep and remain unscathed I urge you to read or listen to Dr. Walker’s book. It was eye opening.
I think one reason patients can be convinced that their lack of sleep isn’t impacting them is that their baseline of health has shifted and they don’t realize it. Dr. Walker wrote “With chronic sleep restriction over months or years, an individual will actually acclimate to their impaired performance, lower alertness and reduced energy levels. That low-level exhaustion becomes their accepted norm, or baseline. Individuals fail to recognize how their perennial state of sleep deficiency has come to compromise their mental aptitude and physical vitality, including the slow accumulation of ill health.” In other words you don’t realize how good you could feel with adequate sleep.
With the advent of wearable technology, we have a whole new way of gathering data about ourselves. It’s been interesting for me to look at my sleep data overlaid with my stress levels (I picked my tracker particularly for the HRV data). I can absolutely see a correlation with nights that I sleep poorly and elevated levels of stress. I am a sucker for data but you don’t need a sleep tracker to optimize your sleep. Dr. Stamer wrote a great article with some tips for getting a good nights sleep. You can read that article here.
Having read a small summary about how sleep deprivation can be a root cause of your illness I hope it empowers you to take a closer look at your sleep and make sleep a priority.
- Matthew Walker, PhD (2017) Why We Sleep Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
- CDC article “1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep” Accessed 11/13/2021 https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html