Sleep can keep you healthy, make you smarter and it just feels good


It’s not too late in 2019 to make a resolution. I have one that I think everyone will agree with. Sleep more.

I love to sleep. I enjoy sleeping eight hours at night. I relish mid-afternoon naps. For a long time I thought I was just being lazy, until I recently read a book that explained that I was clearly engaged in an activity essential to my health.

After reading “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams” by Matthew Walker, I discovered that research concludes sufficient sleep enables a body to relax, recharge and rejuvenate. Sleeping is also a balm to the jagged emotions we feel during the day and a time for our minds to heal.

While we sleep, Walker explains, our dreaming is critically important to our mental health and acuity. During dream-rich REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, our brains are more creative than when we’re awake. And dreaming enables us to solve puzzling problems better than when we’re awake.

Wow, I thought, this is my kind of book! It explains and defends something I’ve done a third of my life and highly valued. As I read more, I realized that getting enough sleep is critically important to everyone, from infants to senior citizens.

For skeptical readers, I want to emphasize the author of this book has some impressive credentials. He is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the UC Berkeley and has worked in sleep science for more than a dozen years. In conjunction with many research colleagues at universities throughout the world, he has conducted hundreds of sleep experiments.

I’ve long felt that sleep deprivation is a pervasive condition of our society and has serious negative consequences, But I had never before realized the importance of getting a good night’s sleep (eight hours or more) to our physical and mental health. A truly good night’s sleep might be the most valuable and least expensive heath practice we can do.

Writing in a personable and clear style, Walker explains a great deal about the importance of sleep, including the early NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep cycle, which does as much to heal our bodies as the later REM sleep does to rejuvenate our minds.

He writes about the dangers of insufficient sleep, citing research showing that those who sleep fewer than 7 hours significantly increase their risks for a variety of illnesses, including cancer, Alzheimer’s and even colds. And no one can “make up” for lost sleep. Once it’s lost, it’s gone.

Not many people get 8 hours of sleep each night. The majority of Americans get much less, including children, teenagers, senior citizens, people who commute long distances and persons who work in careers like law enforcement and, yes, medicine.

Walker strenuously argues against the typical practice of interns and residents working such long shifts that they get little sleep, putting patients at risk.

One reason I recommend this book is there are so many nuggets and so much wisdom within, too many for a short column. As I turned each page, I came across an experiment or conclusion which I found enlightening.

Some other important ideas:

▪ Sleep is especially important for young children, whose brains are forming.

▪ Sleep is critically important for teens, as their brains develop. However, at a time in their lives when they should be sleeping more, today’s teenagers are sleeping less. Early start times in high schools work against young people, depriving them of the sleep they need to succeed.

▪ Our bedrooms should be screenless, relatively dark and cool. Turning our minds off and our temperature down significantly helps our chances of falling and staying asleep.

For those who want to see many helpful ideas, I suggest the appendix, in which Walker gives 12 tips for healthier sleep. But no one should skip through this book; instead, readi it with a highlighter in hand, to better absorb and remember all the points Walker makes.

You’ll soon realize that when people call you a sleepyhead, you can take it as a compliment, as I do. And you’ll resolve to sleep more.

IN MEMORIAM – Los Banos lost one of its most creative and prolific artists when Elna Pederson passed away. She was a kind, caring and light-hearted person. One of her signature works is the large tile mural in the entrance of the Los Banos Campus of Merced College, depicting on one wall the history of Los Banos.

John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. Email john.spevak@gmail.com.