Sleep is your superpower | Matt Walker
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Sleep is your superpower | Matt Walker


Thank you very much. Well, I would like
to start with testicles. (Laughter) Men who sleep five hours a night have significantly smaller testicles
than those who sleep seven hours or more. (Laughter) In addition, men who routinely sleep
just four to five hours a night will have a level of testosterone which is that of someone
10 years their senior. So a lack of sleep
will age a man by a decade in terms of that critical
aspect of wellness. And we see equivalent impairments
in female reproductive health caused by a lack of sleep. This is the best news
that I have for you today. (Laughter) From this point, it may only get worse. Not only will I tell you
about the wonderfully good things that happen when you get sleep, but the alarmingly bad things
that happen when you don’t get enough, both for your brain and for your body. Let me start with the brain and the functions of learning and memory, because what we’ve discovered
over the past 10 or so years is that you need sleep after learning to essentially hit the save button
on those new memories so that you don’t forget. But recently, we discovered
that you also need sleep before learning to actually prepare your brain, almost like a dry sponge ready to initially soak up
new information. And without sleep,
the memory circuits of the brain essentially become
waterlogged, as it were, and you can’t absorb new memories. So let me show you the data. Here in this study, we decided
to test the hypothesis that pulling the all-nighter
was a good idea. So we took a group of individuals and we assigned them
to one of two experimental groups: a sleep group
and a sleep deprivation group. Now the sleep group, they’re going to get
a full eight hours of slumber, but the deprivation group,
we’re going to keep them awake in the laboratory, under full supervision. There’s no naps or caffeine, by the way,
so it’s miserable for everyone involved. And then the next day, we’re going to place those participants
inside an MRI scanner and we’re going to have them
try and learn a whole list of new facts as we’re taking snapshots
of brain activity. And then we’re going to test them to see how effective
that learning has been. And that’s what you’re looking at
here on the vertical axis. And when you put
those two groups head to head, what you find is a quite significant,
40-percent deficit in the ability of the brain
to make new memories without sleep. I think this should be concerning, considering what we know
is happening to sleep in our education populations right now. In fact, to put that in context, it would be the difference
in a child acing an exam versus failing it miserably — 40 percent. And we’ve gone on to discover
what goes wrong within your brain to produce these types
of learning disabilities. And there’s a structure that sits on the left and the right side
of your brain, called the hippocampus. And you can think of the hippocampus almost like the informational
inbox of your brain. It’s very good at receiving
new memory files and then holding on to them. And when you look at this structure in those people who’d had
a full night of sleep, we saw lots of healthy
learning-related activity. Yet in those people
who were sleep-deprived, we actually couldn’t find
any significant signal whatsoever. So it’s almost as though sleep deprivation
had shut down your memory inbox, and any new incoming files —
they were just being bounced. You couldn’t effectively
commit new experiences to memory. So that’s the bad that can happen
if I were to take sleep away from you, but let me just come back
to that control group for a second. Do you remember those folks
that got a full eight hours of sleep? Well, we can ask
a very different question: What is it about the physiological
quality of your sleep when you do get it that restores and enhances
your memory and learning ability each and every day? And by placing electrodes
all over the head, what we’ve discovered
is that there are big, powerful brainwaves that happen during
the very deepest stages of sleep that have riding on top of them these spectacular bursts
of electrical activity that we call sleep spindles. And it’s the combined quality
of these deep-sleep brainwaves that acts like a file-transfer
mechanism at night, shifting memories from a short-term
vulnerable reservoir to a more permanent long-term
storage site within the brain, and therefore protecting them,
making them safe. And it is important that we understand what during sleep actually transacts
these memory benefits, because there are real medical
and societal implications. And let me just tell you about one area that we’ve moved this work
out into, clinically, which is the context of aging
and dementia. Because it’s of course no secret
that, as we get older, our learning and memory abilities
begin to fade and decline. But what we’ve also discovered is that a physiological signature of aging
is that your sleep gets worse, especially that deep quality of sleep
that I was just discussing. And only last year,
we finally published evidence that these two things,
they’re not simply co-occurring, they are significantly interrelated. And it suggests
that the disruption of deep sleep is an underappreciated factor that is contributing
to cognitive decline or memory decline in aging, and most recently
we’ve discovered, in Alzheimer’s disease as well. Now, I know this is remarkably
depressing news. It’s in the mail. It’s coming at you. But there’s a potential
silver lining here. Unlike many of the other factors
that we know are associated with aging, for example changes
in the physical structure of the brain, that’s fiendishly difficult to treat. But that sleep is a missing piece
in the explanatory puzzle of aging and Alzheimer’s is exciting because we may be able
to do something about it. And one way that we are
approaching this at my sleep center is not by using
sleeping pills, by the way. Unfortunately, they are blunt instruments
that do not produce naturalistic sleep. Instead, we’re actually developing
a method based on this. It’s called direct current
brain stimulation. You insert a small amount
of voltage into the brain, so small you typically don’t feel it, but it has a measurable impact. Now if you apply this stimulation
during sleep in young, healthy adults, as if you’re sort of singing in time
with those deep-sleep brainwaves, not only can you amplify
the size of those deep-sleep brainwaves, but in doing so, we can almost
double the amount of memory benefit that you get from sleep. The question now
is whether we can translate this same affordable,
potentially portable piece of technology into older adults and those with dementia. Can we restore back
some healthy quality of deep sleep, and in doing so, can we salvage
aspects of their learning and memory function? That is my real hope now. That’s one of our moon-shot
goals, as it were. So that’s an example
of sleep for your brain, but sleep is just
as essential for your body. We’ve already spoken about sleep loss
and your reproductive system. Or I could tell you about sleep loss
and your cardiovascular system, and that all it takes is one hour. Because there is a global experiment
performed on 1.6 billion people across 70 countries twice a year, and it’s called daylight saving time. Now, in the spring,
when we lose one hour of sleep, we see a subsequent 24-percent increase
in heart attacks that following day. In the autumn,
when we gain an hour of sleep, we see a 21-percent
reduction in heart attacks. Isn’t that incredible? And you see exactly the same profile
for car crashes, road traffic accidents, even suicide rates. But as a deeper dive,
I want to focus on this: sleep loss and your immune system. And here, I’ll introduce these delightful
blue elements in the image. They are called natural killer cells, and you can think of natural killer cells
almost like the secret service agents of your immune system. They are very good at identifying
dangerous, unwanted elements and eliminating them. In fact, what they’re doing here
is destroying a cancerous tumor mass. So what you wish for
is a virile set of these immune assassins at all times, and tragically, that’s what you don’t have
if you’re not sleeping enough. So here in this experiment, you’re not going to have your sleep
deprived for an entire night, you’re simply going to have your sleep
restricted to four hours for one single night, and then we’re going to look to see
what’s the percent reduction in immune cell activity that you suffer. And it’s not small — it’s not 10 percent, it’s not 20 percent. There was a 70-percent drop
in natural killer cell activity. That’s a concerning state
of immune deficiency, and you can perhaps understand
why we’re now finding significant links between
short sleep duration and your risk for the development
of numerous forms of cancer. Currently, that list includes
cancer of the bowel, cancer of the prostate
and cancer of the breast. In fact, the link between a lack of sleep
and cancer is now so strong that the World Health Organization has classified any form
of nighttime shift work as a probable carcinogen, because of a disruption
of your sleep-wake rhythms. So you may have heard of that old maxim that you can sleep when you’re dead. Well, I’m being quite serious now — it is mortally unwise advice. We know this from epidemiological studies
across millions of individuals. There’s a simple truth: the shorter your sleep,
the shorter your life. Short sleep predicts all-cause mortality. And if increasing your risk
for the development of cancer or even Alzheimer’s disease were not sufficiently disquieting, we have since discovered
that a lack of sleep will even erode the very fabric of biological life itself, your DNA genetic code. So here in this study,
they took a group of healthy adults and they limited them
to six hours of sleep a night for one week, and then they measured the change
in their gene activity profile relative to when those same individuals were getting a full eight hours
of sleep a night. And there were two critical findings. First, a sizable and significant 711 genes were distorted in their activity, caused by a lack of sleep. The second result
was that about half of those genes were actually increased in their activity. The other half were decreased. Now those genes that were switched off
by a lack of sleep were genes associated
with your immune system, so once again, you can see
that immune deficiency. In contrast, those genes
that were actually upregulated or increased by way of a lack of sleep, were genes associated
with the promotion of tumors, genes associated with long-term
chronic inflammation within the body, and genes associated with stress, and, as a consequence,
cardiovascular disease. There is simply no aspect of your wellness that can retreat at the sign
of sleep deprivation and get away unscathed. It’s rather like a broken
water pipe in your home. Sleep loss will leak down
into every nook and cranny of your physiology, even tampering with
the very DNA nucleic alphabet that spells out
your daily health narrative. And at this point, you may be thinking, “Oh my goodness,
how do I start to get better sleep? What are you tips for good sleep?” Well, beyond avoiding
the damaging and harmful impact of alcohol and caffeine on sleep, and if you’re struggling
with sleep at night, avoiding naps during the day, I have two pieces of advice for you. The first is regularity. Go to bed at the same time,
wake up at the same time, no matter whether
it’s the weekday or the weekend. Regularity is king, and it will anchor your sleep and improve the quantity
and the quality of that sleep. The second is keep it cool. Your body needs to drop
its core temperature by about two to three degrees
Fahrenheit to initiate sleep and then to stay asleep, and it’s the reason
you will always find it easier to fall asleep in a room that’s too cold than too hot. So aim for a bedroom temperature
of around 65 degrees, or about 18 degrees Celsius. That’s going to be optimal
for the sleep of most people. And then finally,
in taking a step back, then, what is the mission-critical
statement here? Well, I think it may be this: sleep, unfortunately,
is not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a nonnegotiable
biological necessity. It is your life-support system, and it is Mother Nature’s
best effort yet at immortality. And the decimation of sleep
throughout industrialized nations is having a catastrophic impact
on our health, our wellness, even the safety and the education
of our children. It’s a silent sleep loss epidemic, and it’s fast becoming one of the greatest
public health challenges that we face in the 21st century. I believe it is now time for us
to reclaim our right to a full night of sleep, and without embarrassment or that unfortunate stigma of laziness. And in doing so, we can be reunited
with the most powerful elixir of life, the Swiss Army knife
of health, as it were. And with that soapbox rant over, I will simply say, good night, good luck, and above all … I do hope you sleep well. Thank you very much indeed. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) Thank you so much. David Biello: No, no, no.
Stay there for a second. Good job not running away, though.
I appreciate that. So that was terrifying. Matt Walker: You’re welcome.
DB: Yes, thank you, thank you. Since we can’t catch up on sleep,
what are we supposed to do? What do we do when we’re, like,
tossing and turning in bed late at night or doing shift work or whatever else? MW: So you’re right,
we can’t catch up on sleep. Sleep is not like the bank. You can’t accumulate a debt and then hope to pay it off
at a later point in time. I should also note the reason
that it’s so catastrophic and that our health
deteriorates so quickly, first, it’s because human beings
are the only species that deliberately deprive
themselves of sleep for no apparent reason. DB: Because we’re smart. MW: And I make that point
because it means that Mother Nature, throughout the course of evolution, has never had to face the challenge
of this thing called sleep deprivation. So she’s never developed a safety net, and that’s why when you undersleep, things just sort of implode so quickly,
both within the brain and the body. So you just have to prioritize. DB: OK, but tossing and turning in bed, what do I do? MW: So if you are staying in bed
awake for too long, you should get out of bed
and go to a different room and do something different. The reason is because your brain
will very quickly associate your bedroom with the place of wakefulness, and you need to break that association. So only return to bed when you are sleepy, and that way you will relearn
the association that you once had, which is your bed is the place of sleep. So the analogy would be, you’d never sit at the dinner table,
waiting to get hungry, so why would you lie in bed,
waiting to get sleepy? DB: Well, thank you for that wake-up call. Great job, Matt. MW: You’re very welcome.
Thank you very much.

About Bill McCormick

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100 thoughts on “Sleep is your superpower | Matt Walker

  1. Wow, that killer cell thing is jarring. I need to figure out how to go to sleep earlier without the feeling like I'm losing territory.

  2. we actually do not need sleep. when we our dreaming our bodies are still awake are muscles are just relaxed. our brains are still working and functioning properly. everyone lucid dreams but some are better at it then others.

  3. This information is General. It is spoken to you as if this applies to all.
    It is also spoken in terms of being fact.
    You have to sleep 8 hours. 8 controlled hours.
    A system designed sleep.
    I am getting on a bit and look pretty good for my age.
    I have worked night shift for over thirty years.
    I can sleep within seconds of putting my head on the pillow.
    I can wake myself up to my own inner alarm to an exact minute.
    I can also capable of using my subconscious.
    I am a creative person and when I get sleep deprived, I have created some of the best and interesting ideas and music.

    *One real fact that we can all associate with, without the latest technological findings:

    When we lived way back before we lived in houses and in societies as we do now, we would not have been able to sleep for a solid 8 hours. We would have been on alert, as an animal all the time.
    What are these people really trying to tell us? We reproduced then, because if we didn't, we wouldn't be here now. If we had slept for a solid 8 hours, we probably would not have woken up at all.

    You talk about the old, I work with old people, they don't require the sleep. It is directly related to the amount of activity a person does. It's not possible to sleep, when you are doing nothing.
    If you work hard, then your body will know how much sleep you require and you will most likely sleep more.

    You also failed to talk about natural sleep cycles. Waking up to an alarm is worse than waking up naturally. You should know this?

    You are confused or just concerned with the population doing what they want, opposed to being told. The system is trying hard to curb creativity and other thought associated awareness.

    You have spent the duration of your topic giving people nightmares and scaring them with fear. We are now all going to die horribly because we don't sleep to your prescribed 8 hours?

    Your video and the talk is just keeping you employed. You could not even have discussed this as a sensible topic a number of years back, though humanity has managed to survive for thousnads of years without you or your talk. I could give you the same, if not more, amount of reasons why sleeping 8 hours or more is bad for you.

    I suggest you do something better with your time. I have spent a good lifetime understanding sleep as an individual and using it to my advantage.

    I am healthy, look younger than my age, have two wonderful, healthy children and do a lot with my time.

    Your downside was the patronising and psychological way of speaking to the audience. It might convince some, but when I discover people working for the system , you spike and my radar picks you up.

    Your learning & interfering with neurology is to ascertain how to control humanity. I am not conscripting, nor do I suggest others do.

  4. I feel like if ever the 💡 wasn't invented we probably will sleep as we should or… I don't really know, I'm just a regular bloke watching this at 3 AM🤔

  5. So unless you get 8 hours a night your brain and body will shrivel up and you'll die young. This is such bollocks. Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

  6. Is sleep deprivation really that big of an issue? I simply can't function if I don't get enough sleep one way or another. My body sees to it that I do, and it's the boss.

  7. I stopped watching 3 minutes in after he revealed the startling fact that you'll do better on a test if you get 8 hours sleep rather than zero.

  8. This guy has taken facts and research and catastrophized it for all the armchair hypochondriacs out there.
    It’s really not that bad. You don’t need to freak out or be mortally concerned about the well being of industrial western society.
    Signed,
    Former insomniac who went to sleep school.

  9. anyone else here just because you got fascinated by Dr. Walker from his Joe Rogan podcast and wanted to learn more about importance of sleep ?

  10. I just slep faster then most of people so l am good with my 6 hours thanks’ and my balls are reall good and shaved 😀 😀

  11. So when you’re telling us that you made an experiment where you reduced people’s sleep hours, you’re also telling me that later on someone committed suicide because of you? Ahah funny

  12. This guy is my hero. Since I had a kid 11 years ago and adopted his sleep times, my life has improved in every way, get your 8-9 hours every day you will not regret it.

  13. "Sleep is your superpower."
    Indeed it is. I've gotten real good at it. I'm so good, I can do it with my eyes closed.

  14. Crazy how the lack of just 1 hour of sleep is reflected in a statistically proven increase of car accidents, suicides and heart attacks. WTF, mindblowing.

  15. 5 years into university. I tend to forget everything, I'm tired all the time, crave sugar all the time, I'm depressed and getting fat, my digestion is crazy…. Listen to this man, people. Value your sleep. Don't let anyone take it away from you.

  16. I get four hours of sleep a night and my testicles are fairly large and my testosterone tells me to fap 6 times a day at least 😂

  17. when he says the nonsense he said about the BFORE AND AFTER learning sleep thing just skip to 17:47 and watch the ice melt

  18. So basically new parents, and mothers especially are killing themselves. Yep I thought all this sleep deprivation is killing me

  19. Bad science – you've deliberately weighted your results by making ine group happy & one group unhappy.

    Being kept bored in an enclosed environment & kept awake……

    Compounded with less sleep is obviously going to give the negative results you wished for.

    Do it again & try to level the playing field.

  20. Mat Walker is spot on

    I averaged 3.5 hrs sleep/night. So I went to Abbott Northwestern Neuroscience Sleep Lab and had my head wired up. Nurse Rachet took away my: cell phone, cable, notebook, and the room was cold. I told her. “I will not be able to sleep!” She said, “Yes you will…No I won't!” She relented with 30 min of TV. I finally found sleep and she woke me up and said, “Go home.” Giving me a sleep hygiene list to follow.

    Now sleeping 5+ hrs/night. My issue is a lack of discipline. I am not quitting! I will keep it up until I reach the magic number 8 and continue. My days are much improved and look forward to seeing 8 hr rewards.

    HYGIENE LIST

    Noon stop caffeine

    Bedtime same every night

    Dim lights

    Cool room

    Take pj's put on the bed and look at them (keys the brain)

    Take a very warm bath

    IT WORKS

  21. Could this be part of the "secret" to learning a new language? Sleeping After studying. Not studying while you sleep

  22. This is fascinating because there's also this notion that a small subset of society (I want to say 10ish %) are essentially "hunters" to the rest of societies "gatherers". The types often broadly considered or related to adrenaline junkies/sociopaths etc. I've seen studies that seem to indicate these smaller subsets of society seem to operate on less sleep equally well. Very curious to see more as it pertains to those groups. And can the effects of sleep deprivation be mitigated by taking "deep sleep" level naps during the day?
    I naturally wake up after 5-6 hours, but then I'll find time mid day for 1-1.5 hour nap. Curious how that effects things.

  23. I took my sleeping pills and minutes later the guy said smart words about how sleeping pills isn’t natural and so on…
    I mean I’ve got school in about four hours I’m doing what I can dude.

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