The benefits of sleeping

What if I told you that you have the power to lower your chances of getting in a car accident, improve your ability to fight off getting sick, and decrease your risk factors for Alzheimer’s? Better yet, what if I told you that you don’t have to pay for this superpower and it’s something you already like to do?

What is this superpower? Sleep.

Now, before you turn away and think, “Okay great, I know, I’ll get my eight hours of sleep a night, I don’t need to know any more,” stick with us. The TED Talk we’re sharing with you today will give you a greater appreciation for your nightly ritual and have you rethinking your priorities when it comes to how sleep factors into your life.

In my family, loudly proclaiming how little sleep you get because you’re getting more work done is often seen as a badge of honor. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” is a common comment. When I was in college the same was true too. Great numbers of students seemed to be staying up just to say they had.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Well, if the sleep science you’ve heard hasn’t convinced you that you need to start prioritizing your sleep, this TED Talk hopefully will.
Does sleep matter, really?

Well, the quick answer is yes. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, teenagers 8-10 hours, and 6 to 12-year-olds need 10-13 hours. Now, how many of us can say we’re getting in those required hours, or our kids are?

In the United States, 35.3% of adults report that they are sleeping less than seven hours a night. Alarmingly, people who report not getting enough sleep are more likely to report they have one or more often chronic health problems like heart attack, diabetes, depression, and cancer.

We know, too, that sleep is critical to learning, and yet two-thirds of US high school students get less than eight hours of sleep on school nights.

People, it’s time to get some sleep!

So, what are the benefits of sleep? Well, this amazing TED Talk from sleep scientist Matt Walker runs us through some fascinating sleep science and makes an excellent case for making sleep our newest priority. (Oh, and make sure you stay around at the end for a quick interview with Matt. He has a surprising tip for getting better sleep!)

If you haven’t poked around all of the talks TED has to offer, make sure you check them out. Their site features talks from the world’s leading scientists, thought leaders, artists, and thinkers. It’s a great place to get lost in the world’s knowledge!

We have curated some of our favorite TED Talks to get you started in this circle!

Sleep up!

We have the science that tells us a lack of sleep increases your risk of getting cancer, suppresses the power of your immune system, shuts down your brain’s ability to retain and process memories, and ages your body by as much as 10 years.

It’s time to rethink the way we sleep. We need to start seeing it as a priority. Not as something that gets thrown by the wayside to Netflix binging or all-nighters. As Matt Walker points out:

“Sleep, unfortunately, is not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity.”—Matt Walker
So, what can we do to improve our sleep?

Well, first, prioritize it. However, you need to do that. Recently I started prioritizing my bedtime and realized that I was staying up late because I found myself turning on the TV or YouTube (as so many of us do) around the time I went to bed. An hour later, sometimes two, I would finally turn it off! If you’re looking to improve your habits before bed, take a step back and assess where you’re spending your time. Maybe replace TV with reading?

Once you’ve assessed your pre-bed habits, set some time constraints. As Matt Walker mentioned, regularity is king when it comes to quantity and quality of sleep. Pick a time to go to bed and wake up that you can keep consistent.

Next up, if you can, cool down your room. 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18C) is an optimal temperature for you to cool down and get quality sleep.

With these two factors in place, you can now start to work backward. Try reducing your caffeine and/or alcohol consumption. Avoid blue light from your phone before bed. Don’t lay down for a long afternoon nap. And, if you find yourself staring at the ceiling before going to bed, get up, go somewhere else, and do something different. You want to make sure your brain associates your bed with a place of sleep.

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