You're not sleeping enough – and it's killing you.


(Germany out) Schlaflosigkeit, Frau mit Wecker (Photo by Wodicka / ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Extend / (Germany out) Schlaflosigkeit, Frau mit Wecker (Photo by Wodicka / ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Ullstein Bild | Getty Images

The whole world is exhausted. And this is killing us.

But particularly me. As I write this, I'm at TED 2019 in Vancouver, which is a one-week marathon of lectures and workshops and coffee meetings and experiences and demos and quizzes for evening trivia and networking, networking, networking. Meanwhile, I'm sick as a dog with a virus that I picked up from my 3 year old son, I'm on time for what seems to be a bazillion stories, and I'm pregnant, which means I need coffee but not I can have a lot, and I need to sleep, but I can only lie on my left side, and I can not breathe without sitting propped up on a pillow anyway, since I can not safely take any cold medication.

According to neuroscientist Matthew Walker, I am causing serious damage to my health – and to my life – by not getting enough sleep.

"The decimation of sleep in all industrialized nations is having a catastrophic impact on our health, our well-being, even on the safety and education of our children.It is a silent epidemic of sleep loss.It is rapidly becoming one of the largest challenges we faced in the 21st century. "Walker, a sleep specialist at UC Berkeley and author of the best-selling book Because we sleep, told an extended TED hearing on Thursday.

After a morning of discouraging talk about climate change and the harms of online viral misinformation – punctuated by frequent exclamations of "Well, that was alarming" by science curator David Biello and stolen Twitter looks for updates on the Mueller report and the events in the outside world-Walker's conversation seemed a jolt of caffeine to a tired system. (A comparison that Walker can hate.) He warns, in the strongest possible terms, of the damages of that particular stimulant.)

He has gone through all the ways in which sleep deprivation hurts people: it makes him dumber, more forgetful, unable to learn new things, more vulnerable to dementia, more prone to die of heart attack, less able to defend himself from a disease. immune system, and more likely to get cancer, and this causes your body literally gives more. Lack of sleep distorts his genes and increases his risk of death in general, he said. It disrupts the creation of sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, and leads to premature aging. Apparently, men who sleep only five hours a night have distinctly smaller testicles than men who sleep more than seven.

"The loss of sleep will leak to every corner of your physiology," he said. "Sleep, unfortunately, is not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a nonnegotiable biological necessity. It's your life support system."

Of all the TED talks I heard this week, this one seemed directed at me. In my heart. And my parched and overloaded hippocampus, the "information box" of my brain, as Walker calls it. In my swollen eyes and dark rings. Yes, OK, maybe it's because I'm so tired and so prepared to hear it. But I was not alone.

Everyone is obsessed with sleep. And they know they are not getting enough – hence the growing demand for sleeping pills, the emergence of sleep tracking devices (Walker uses a Oura Ring to track his), smart beds, Alexa integrations for sleeping and conscious sleep apps . Arianna Huffington famous left journalism to found a company dedicated to sleep and well-being.

Tell us what to do

After Walker's lecture, he was harassed by acolytes in the desperate conference center to tell him how much his book – which covers the same subject matter as his TED lecture – changed their lives and how they gave up caffeine and alcohol and stopped feeling ill by leaving the parties early to bed or refusing to see the work emails in bed. When the next TED lecture session was beginning, Walker kept trying to escape so he could watch, but people would not let him pass. They wanted to know what to eat, when to sleep, how to dream.

Your answers? Do not drink caffeine or alcohol. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning (even on weekends). Sleep in a cool room. If you are awake in bed, listening to the litany of worries that your brain is going through, get up, go to a different room, do some activity and then go back to bed when you are ready.

"You would not sit at the dinner table waiting to get hungry, so why stay in bed waiting to get tired?" he told a TED participant that he asked for advice. Meditate to calm your nervous system and your mind. Not standard for sleeping pills, which are "blunt instruments that do not produce naturalistic sleep," he said. Eventually, he said, he may be able to offer an "affordable, portable" brain-stimulating device that would use transcranial direct current stimulation to help people have a deeper sleep. (Walker has just started a company called Stim Science, with the support of Khosla Ventures, to manufacture this product, he told WIRED.)

People listened carefully. They took notes during their talk (which is unusual in TED, to my surprise) and how he spoke to the crowd afterwards.

His message came as a rebuke of the idea that sleep deprivation and success somehow go hand in hand. Tim Cook supposedly wakes up at 3:45 to start work. Barack Obama said he only sleeps for about five hours. He's a "face of the night." Donald Trump and Elon Musk said they slept only a few hours a night. But Musk also admitted to The New York Times that his work schedule was harming his mental health and his whole life. Walker argued that it is time to stop thinking that needing sleep is a sign of weakness or laziness. In fact, it is the opposite.

Sleep makes us better at everything

"Deep sleep interruption is contributing to cognitive decline," says Walker – in elderly patients at risk or already experiencing dementia, and even in healthy people. "You need to sleep after learning to essentially push the save button on these new memories to keep in mind." But recently we discovered that you also need to sleep before you learn, almost like a dry sponge to suck in new information. soaked ".

That sounds right. Yesterday I heard about 18 different TED lectures. But I had barely slept the night before and barely slept last night. When asked this morning that the conversation had been my favorite the day before, it took me 30 seconds to remember a single.

I am determined to remember this. In fact, I backed up to one of TED's "sleeping quarters" and tried to take a five-minute nap before writing this article in an effort to commit the conversation in memory. I put on a sleeping mask and let the noise machine white and a pure essential oil diffuser soothe me in a moment of calm. In the mysterious silence of this zen zone manufactured inside a giant conference center in the foothills of the North Shore Mountains, I almost forgot about the news cycle, on my cool head, on the Mueller report.

But then I remembered the deadline, got to my feet, turned off the diffuser, turned on my computer, and typed those words. I hope they help you and I, sleep a little tonight.

This story originally appeared in WIRED.


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