No Sleep Till Brooklyn!

“Another plane, another train, another bottle in the brain.” Although the Beasties were never going to win a Pushcart Prize for Best American Poetry, many of us have lain awake countless nights with this rhyme in the mind. If you’re too young to know the Beastie Boys, I’m sure you’ve suffered insomnia with some sophomoric verse stuck in your head.

In his new book Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker, the director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at UC Berkeley, explores one of the least understood aspects of our daily lives. Until recently, scientists had little idea about why we sleep and why a lack of sleep has such a drastic impact on our health and longevity.

Moreover, Walker explains the difference between natural sleep and reaching for an Ambien or other sleeping pill. Once again, Big Pharma has hoodwinked us into believing that sleeping pills help us sleep. Drugs like these “switch off the top of your cortex…and put you into a state of unconsciousness” that has none of the restorative benefits of sleep. You are simply drugged up and knocked the f*ck out. The night passes without running through 80's jukebox hits like the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” but you don’t really sleep at all and the next day you are kinda out of it, like you partied all night. This drug hangover is worse than mere daytime grogginess and a strange taste in your mouth – Ambien and others impair memory and increase your risk of cancer and death. Yep, death.

Before you put “another bottle in the brain,” try a few of the sleep hacks Walker recommends in the book. Make sure your bedroom is dark and cold, turning off anything that emits light a few hours before bedtime. Use your bed for sleep and sex, nothing more. In other words, don’t use your bed as a sofa or a place to Netflix and chill unless the phrase ‘Netflix and Chill’ is a euphemism for sex. Through classical conditioning, you must associate the bed with sleep (or sex) so that you either become tired or turned on.

And don’t go to bed until you are sleepy. Walker advises we stay awake and build up adenosine, a chemical that accumulates in our brains throughout the day adding to our “sleep pressure.” If you do find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night, try not to worry about it. Insomnia is like constipation – the harder you try, the less likely it works out in your favor.

Instead don’t freak out. Pretend you are happy to be awake – research shows this will actually help you fall asleep more quickly.

Dr. H.