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Sleep More to Learn More

“Sleep is perhaps the single most effective thing that we can do each and every day to reset the health of our brain and our body.”
~ Matthew Walker

From an early age, I noticed that my mother and I had completely different sleep cycles. She is a morning person. I am a night person. It was always a challenge to wake up for school. I would have recurring dreams that I was awake and getting ready for school, only to wake and find myself still snuggled warmly in my bed.

We don’t talk enough about the importance of sleep. Surprisingly, despite extensive research, people don’t take this basic human necessity seriously enough. The research results are clear: not getting enough sleep is bad for your health. It’s bad for your mind, bad for your body, and bad for your relationships.

Sleep Vocabulary

Sleep has so many collocations that I don’t have space to share them all here. Instead, I’ll refer you to the Online Oxford Collocation Dictionary results.

Synonyms

Likewise, there are a great many synonyms for sleep, and as it is both a noun and a verb, it’s best to check out the Collins English Dictionary Thesaurus listings.

Expressions

It seems to be a testament (something that serves as a sign or evidence) of just how important sleep is that we have a great deal of expressions related to it. This list is not all inclusive (does not include everything).

  • catch some Zs, get some shut-eye: get some sleep
  • drift off: fall asleep
  • hit the hay, hit the sack, turn in: go to bed
  • out like a light: to fall asleep quickly and deeply
  • pull an all-nighter: stay up all night
  • ready to drop: extremely tired
  • saw logs: snore (breathe noisily)
  • to not sleep a wink: to not sleep at all
  • to sleep in: to sleep later than usual, either planned or unplanned
  • to sleep like a log: to sleep deeply
  • to sleep like a baby: to sleep soundly (very well)
  • to sleep something off: to sleep in order to feel better, often after drinking too much alcohol

Idioms

  • to be able to do something in one’s sleep: to do something very easily and without thinking about it
    I’ve done it so many times, I could do it in my sleep.
  • to burn the candle at both ends: to work hard, typically waking up early and going to bed very late
    You need to stop burning the candle at both ends before you make yourself sick.
  • to sleep on something: to wait to make a decision until after you have slept and had more time to think
    I don’t know what I’m going to do. I need to sleep on it.
  • to wake up on the wrong side of the bed: to wake up in a bad mood
    I’m sorry I snapped at you. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

to snap at someone: to speak irritably or angrily at someone

Discussion

Are you a good sleeper or do you toss and turn and struggle to fall asleep? Perhaps you have difficulty staying asleep. Or maybe you are someone who drifts off the moment your head hits the pillow (very quickly). While I used to be someone who would lie in bed awake for hours, unable to fall asleep, I have made changes to my sleep routine that help me fall asleep much more quickly (and earlier!).

As important as sleep is to our well-being, we often fail to prioritize it. To be our best, we need to start making it a priority.

Even though we all know we should get around 8 hours of sleep each night, we often fall short of this goal. Lack of sleep can have a negative effect on our memory, our emotions, and our physical and cognitive functioning.

fall short: fail to meet an expectation or standard

One reason that I care so much about this topic is that every semester, I encounter students who are extremely sleep-deprived. They pull all-nighters and push themselves so much to perform well. Unfortunately, their efforts to do well are futile (useless) without the necessary sleep. They are basically shooting themselves in the foot. If they had better sleep hygiene, their minds would work better.

Idiom
shoot oneself in the foot: do something foolish that harms your chances for success

NREM and REM are both necessary

There is more to sleep than just getting enough of it. We also need to get the right kind of it, which means getting a full night’s sleep and not short-changing ourselves.

short-change: to deprive or give less than what is due, to cheat someone of something

Each night, we cycle through NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This happens four to six times (every 90 minutes) per night. As the night progresses, the ratio of NREM to REM changes, with the first half of the night consisting of lots of deep NREM sleep and the second half favoring REM sleep. Both NREM and REM are important for different reasons as different processes occur in each stage.

“It is the lack of REM sleep—that critical stage occurring in the final hours of sleep that we strip from our children and teenagers by way of early school start times—that creates the difference between a stable and unstable mental state.”
(Walker, 2018, p.310)

It is in the final stages that our body’s immune system and cardiovascular system recharge. With the majority of REM sleep occurring later in the sleep cycle, getting only 6 hours of sleep in a night significantly reduces the amount of REM.

REM sleep helps us integrate new experiences with past experiences, fueling creativity, assisting in problem-solving, and birthing new insights.

For more information on the sleep stages, check out this Ted Talk by Matthew Walker.

Change Is Possible

Learning about the detrimental effects of insufficient sleep and the many benefits of good sleep hygiene is the first step in beginning to get serious about making a change.

Having always been a night owl, I love staying up late. I used to postpone going to bed for as long as possible, even when I had an early morning ahead of me. However, now that I know and have experienced the benefits of a regular 8 hours per night, I want to share that knowledge with others. I want to let people know just how important sleep is to our overall health and well-being. I urge you to start taking sleep seriously.

“After you’ve been awake for 19 or 20 hours, your mental capacity is so impaired that you would be as deficient as someone who was legally drunk behind the wheel of a car.”
~ Matthew Walker
(A Sleep Expert Explains What Happens to Your Body and Brain If You Don’t Get Enough Sleep, 2019)

Learning about habits was an essential part of my ability to create new habits that promoted better sleep hygiene. If I can do it, so can you. Believe me, I thought I was an exception. For a long time, I resisted the notion (idea) that we can change our sleep patterns. I thought there was no way I could adjust my sleep schedule. After all, it is part of our biology. It is genetic. Some of us are night people. It’s who we are. I was wrong. Change is possible.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not easy. I was right about always being a night person. We each have a chronotype or genetic predisposition related to when we prefer to sleep. It is always going to be somewhat of a challenge for me to go to bed before 1:00 or 2:00 AM, but by prioritizing it, I am able to do it and to get much better sleep than ever before. You can too.

to get someone wrong: to misunderstand someone

But why bother? Well, unfortunately, we live in a world where the workday typically begins at 9:00 AM. This means an even earlier wake-up time. In order to get sufficient sleep, training ourselves to go to sleep earlier is essential.

Priority + Habit Formation = Better Sleep

In my last post, I talked about habits. Before that, I wrote about priorities. Both of these can help us. Once you decide to make sleep a priority, a lot of other aspects of life and self-improvement begin to fall into place.

Idiom
fall into place: make sense, happen in a satisfactory way

From boosting your immune system to increasing productivity and improving both memory and mood, sleep is essential to well-being. The benefits are far-reaching.

Sleep hygiene needs to move to the top of our list of priorities. We have routines around dental hygiene, yet many of us fail to make sleep a priority. Unfortunately, our fast-paced society is more of a hinderance than a help when it comes to getting a good night’s rest despite the fact that with adequate sleep, we become more productive, better able to retain information, and more capable of handling stress and solving problems.

 “By any metrics we use to determine business success—profit margins, marketplace dominance/prominence, efficiency, employee creativity, or worker satisfaction and wellness—creating the necessary conditions for employees to obtain enough sleep at night, or in the workplace during the day, should be thought of as a new form of physiologically injected venture capital.”
(Walker, 2018, p. 305)

No More Screens in the Bedroom

While I will always be a night person by nature, I have been able to improve my sleep greatly by implementing new habits. The most helpful change I made was keeping devices and screens out of the bedroom. It might not sound like a habit, but moving phones (and other such devices) out of the bedroom is an environmental change that makes the habit of looking at our phones (and other light-producing screens) more difficult. It can make a world of difference.

a world of difference: a big difference, usually a positive one

Habits are the method by which you can begin to improve your sleep. Create a routine that works for you. For me, it’s brushing my teeth at the same time each night. After brushing my teeth, I read. I put my phone away for the night an hour before bed. Finally, I tidy up the living room, folding blankets and fluffing pillows. This routine is invaluable in preparing my body to relax and get ready for sleep. Create a routine that works for you.

Sleep, Learning, and Memory

Sleep is critical for memory in 3 ways. You need sleep before learning in order to prepare to receive new information. You need it after learning in order to save new memories. The hippocampus and cortex work together during deep sleep to commit memories to long-term memory. Sleep also weaves different concepts together so that we can wake up with new ideas and solutions to problems.

Multiple studies show that “the more sleep spindles an individual has at night, the greater the restoration of overnight learning ability come the next morning.” (Walker, 2018, p. 111)

Before reading Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, I brushed aside the adage (proverb or saying) that one cannot make up lost sleep. Sleeping for 10-12 hours to make up for a few nights of only sleeping 4 or 5 hours certainly felt to me like making up the lost sleep. Once again, I was wrong.

“You may try to make up hours of sleep by getting more sleep later, but you can’t make up or repair the damage done to your body during the days you didn’t get enough shut-eye.”
~ Kimberly Holland (Healthline)

“…if you don’t sleep the very first night after learning, you lose the chance to consolidate those memories, even if you get lots of ‘catch-up’ sleep thereafter.” (Walker, 2018, p. 157)

“It is sleep that builds connections between distantly related informational elements that are not obvious in the light of the waking day. Our participants went to bed with disparate pieces of the jigsaw and woke up with the puzzle complete.” (Walker, 2018, p. 227)

Related Ted Talk: Hacking your memory — with sleep

The damage done by sleep deficit is no laughing matter. You can’t get back all of what you’ve lost. There is no going back in time when it comes to sleep, except for in your dreams.

Idiom
no laughing matter: something serious that should not be joked about

“One longitudinal study tracked more than 5,000 Japanese schoolchildren and discovered that those individuals who were sleeping longer obtained better grades across the board. Controlled sleep laboratory studies in smaller samples show that children with longer total sleep times develop superior IQ, with brighter children having consistently slept forty to fifty minutes more than those who went on to develop a lower IQ.”
(Walker, 2018, p. 311)

Sleep Environment and Routine

Improving sleep involves creating the right environment and sticking to a regular schedule.

As I said, the number one change that I made to improve my sleep was removing all devices from the bedroom. I highly recommend committing to not having screens in your bedroom. If you live in a one-room space, you can put your phone in the bathroom or away in a drawer. Make it invisible and difficult to reach. This will help break the habit of reaching for it, which is easily done when it is right beside you.

Related Ted Talk: 6 tips for better sleep

Here are three tips from the the above Ted Talk to get you started:

  1. Establish a routine. Go to bed and wake up at the same time as much as possible. Set a schedule and stick to it (maintain it, continue without changing). A regular routine cues your brain that sleep is around the corner (coming soon).
  2. Keep it cool. According to research, the ideal temperature for a good night’s sleep is 18 degrees Celsius (65 degrees Fahrenheit).
  3. Keep it dark. Darkness releases melatonin, which is known to help regulate sleep. One of the most effective ways to begin to regulate your sleep is to end screen time at least one hour before bed. Dim lighting will help make you sleepier and set you up (prepare you) for a good night’s sleep.

These tips are about training yourself, your body, and your habits. Mindset, my next topic, is about your beliefs related to whether you can improve something. If you don’t believe that you can change, you won’t change. Don’t worry. You can change your mindset.

The very first step to getting better sleep is believing that you can.

You can improve your sleep. You can go to bed earlier. You can get enough sleep. Harness the power of habits to get control of your sleep. There are good sleep habits and bad sleep habits. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what they are.

Your ability to be and do your best is decreased when you do not get enough sleep.

In sum, you can develop an environment and a routine that promote healthy sleep.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that inadequate sleep has a detrimental effect on your health.

Idiom
the bottom line: the most important point, the ultimate result
In finance, the bottom line is the net profit or loss.

Sleep helps us heal and recover. We need it to maintain a healthy immune system and to function at our best. Our neurons depend on it. Our ability to learn, remember, and problem-solve depend on it.

Your Turn

How’s your sleep? Do you have good habits or is it something that you want to improve?

If you have found any of this useful, it would mean so much to me if you’d leave a comment or Tweet the link and share it with others. These are the rewards that keep me motivated to write for you.

Further Reading, Watching, and Learning

TED series: Sleeping with Science – 9 short videos by Matthew Walker

Matthew Walker’s excellent book, Why We Sleep, is full of research-based information that provides a convincing argument for prioritizing sleep. It is information that should be widely disseminated (spread).

As an Amazon affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Get the book by Matthew Walker.

Never stop learning!
~ Trey


References:

A sleep expert explains what happens to your body and brain if you don’t get enough sleep. (2019, March 14). Business Insider Nederland. https://www.businessinsider.nl/what-happens-when-you-dont-get-enough-sleep-2017-12?international=true&r=US

Cherry, K. (2019). The 4 Stages of Sleep (NREM and REM Sleep Cycles). Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-four-stages-of-sleep-2795920

Dudley, K. (2019, September 24). Weekend catch-up sleep won’t fix the effects of sleep deprivation on your waistline. Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/weekend-catch-up-sleep-wont-fix-the-effects-of-sleep-deprivation-on-your-waistline-2019092417861

Easton, J. (2014, May 4). Can you ever make up for lost sleep? UChicago Medicine. https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/health-and-wellness-articles/can-you-ever-make-up-for-lost-sleep

Holland, K. (2019, February 28). Sleeping In On the Weekend Doesn’t Make Up for Lost Sleep During Week. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/can-you-make-up-for-lost-sleep-on-the-weekend

PhD, W. M. (2018). Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams (Illustrated ed.). Scribner.

Sleep Debt: Can You Catch up on Sleep? (2020, December 11). Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/sleep-debt-and-catch-up-sleep

Sleep Deprivation: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment. (2020, December 11). Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-deprivation

Sleep expert Matthew Walker on the secret to a good night’s rest. (2019, January 11). Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/e6ccdcac-133d-11e9-a581-4ff78404524e

Stages of Sleep. (2020, December 11). Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/stages-of-sleep

Walker, M. (2020a, July 15). A walk through the stages of sleep. TED Talks. https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_walker_a_walk_through_the_stages_of_sleep?language=en

Walker, M. (2020b, July 15). A walk through the stages of sleep. TED Talks. https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_walker_a_walk_through_the_stages_of_sleep?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare

Walker, M. (2020c, August 10). Hacking your memory — with sleep. TED Talks. https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_walker_hacking_your_memory_with_sleep?language=en

Walker, M. (2020d, September 2). 6 tips for better sleep. TED Talks. https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_walker_6_tips_for_better_sleep

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