"Why We Sleep" Book Review

May 14, 2018

Lack of sleep is now reported as a major risk to our health. Sufficient sleep is important for mood, better memory, less anxiety, and even fewer aches and pains! Listen in as we review sleep expert and neuroscientist Dr. Matthew Walker’s book, “Why We Sleep,” to understand the science of sleep.

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DAR:  Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness. I'm Dalene Kvist, a certified nutrition specialist and the founder of Nutritional Weight & Wellness. I've also been doing Dishing Up Nutrition for the past 14 years. That's a very long time getting up at 6:00 in the morning. It's a long time to love and respect the impact nutrition has on our health. Today, our cohost and I are going to take a little different direction in our discussion about a major lifestyle habit that has significant impact on your health. So, you might say, “Hmm, what is that lifestyle factor?” Well, it is a lack of sleep. Lack of sleep is now reported is a major risk factor for your health. Isn't that interesting?

LEA:  Very interesting. Hi Dar. It's great to be on with you. I'm Lea Wetzel. I am also a certified nutrition specialist. And I'm a licensed nutritionist and I've been working individually with clients and teaching classes for the past 11 years at Nutritional Weight & Wellness. All of our long-time listeners know that I've put two serious auto autoimmune diseases into remission in my own body through eating real food and getting, for most of that time, sufficient sleep at night. But now I have a five-year-old and I have an 18-month-old daughter. So, I'm very interested in doing the show on sleep because sometimes life gets in the way of sleep, doesn't it?  Or, maybe I really should say your children get in the way of sufficiency, especially at this time in your life. Right?

DAR: So, in our Weight & Wellness classes we teach about the importance of sleep for good moods, better memory, less anxiety, fewer aches and pains, and we give suggestions and solutions to people so they could consistently get seven and a half to nine hours of sleep a night and what's really recommended now? Seven and a half or nine. From what research says, nine. Think of that. If you're listening and you're getting four and a half, just double that.

CAROLYN: Yeah, exactly. Well, good morning. I'm Carolyn Hudson and I'm a registered and licensed dietician and I started doing nutritional counseling and education in Canada so many years ago, like 38. So, I've been around a little bit. Oh, you've got a lot of good experience and I've had some really good sleep years and some really bad sleep. Well raising children was a tough, tough time, but teenagers aren't much better either. Then you get woken up in the middle of the night when they come home.

DAR: And you always have that ear up listening when they come in.

CAROLYN: Yes, exactly. But years ago, people ate better and slept longer than they really do today, so when we decided to do this show on sleep, I was fascinated with this new book about sleep when it hit all of the bookshelves. This book is called Why We Sleep and it's written by world renowned neuroscientist and sleep expert Dr Matthew Walker. And he digs into the latest understanding of the science of sleep.

LEA: At Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we are all about the science of weight loss, the science of memory, the science of cholesterol, and the science of heart disease. So, the science of sleep fits right into the way we practice nutrition at Nutritional Weight & Wellness. Today the three of us are going to do an old-fashioned book review on Why We Sleep by Dr Matthew Walker.

CAROLYN: As many of you know, when you do a book review, you can't just skim those pages. So, we actually had to read all 359 pages of this book and let's get started on it and see what Dr Matthew Walker had to say about sleep. On the cover of the book, the British newspaper, The Guardian, wrote a rather captivating comment. It said that “A neuroscientist has found a revolutionary way of being cleverer, more attractive, slimmer, happier, healthier, and to ward off cancer.” What do you think that is? A good night’s shut eye!

LEA: Super interesting. Think about all those benefits from just getting a sufficient night of sleep. We think faster and our brains work better.

DAR: That's so important for people as they age, particularly.

LEA: Oh yes. We’re more rested, so we look better.

CAROLYN:  I loved his examples in the book of that. Taking pictures of people before and after they slept.

LEA: We lose weight while we sleep. And I tell clients this all the time.

CAROLYN: And most of them don't believe that.

LEA:  Yes. A critical part of weight loss is sleep. We're happier. Definitely. We crave less sugar and processed carbohydrates. And we ward off cancer and other diseases.

CAROLYN:  And that was a really interesting statistic for me in the book, so we'll talk about that a little bit more. So, to get us started, I'm going to ask you a couple of questions. Dr. Walker Act asked these same questions in his book, why we sleep?

Number one, do you think you got enough sleep this past week?

Can you recall the last time you woke up without an alarm clock feeling refreshed and not needing caffeine? Yes or no?

If the answer to either of these questions is no, you're certainly not alone. Two thirds of adults fail to obtain the recommended eight hours of sleep. Think of that, two thirds of adults are not getting eight hours of sleep most nights. That's a lot.

DAR: So seriously, listeners, are you routinely getting less than six or seven hours of sleep most nights? If so, what does a shortage of sleep do to your body and your brain? So, here are some serious problems for your body and your brain from a deficiency of sleep.

Here's some: It damages your immune system and more than doubles your risk of cancer. And I don't think people connect the fact that a low immune system can very well lead to cancer. So, sleep is the key factor determining whether or not you develop Alzheimer's disease.

CAROLYN: That one really got me.

LEA: And think how prevalent that is in our society today.

CAROLYN:  Yeah. And who wants that? It's horrible. So, lack of sleep can be the catalyst that causes you to have a pre-diabetes condition or even blocked arteries leading to cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure. Lack of sleep actually contributes to depression, anxiety, and even suicide. So, Dr. Walker said, and I think this is really important, the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span. And he backs it up in many ways.

DAR:  I was so fascinated by this part about when he talks about how it affects your arteries.


DAR: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. Most of our long-time listeners understand that Nutritional Weight & Wellness not only sponsors Dishing Up Nutrition, but we also research, write, and present this life changing information weekly. And honestly, we thank you for listening. We’re a company with a mission to help people understand the power of nutrition and the power of sleep and what those two things have on your health. Perhaps a friend or a family member could benefit from this health supporting information. I don't know who could not benefit from it. So, if that is you, please share it with your friend. My goal is to influence and help people all over the world, educating people on why sleeping five or six hours per night will very likely lead to health problems, while sleeping seven and a half to nine hours nightly can have a significant improvement on your health and your friends’ health. And it's really life changing. Such a simple solution to a major health problem.

LEA: Like we were talking about before break, the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span.

CAROLYN: And people don't think about it as a major health problem. It's almost prided like how little sleep you can get away with to get all of your stuff done that you need to get done.

DAR: So hopefully this show and podcast will change some people's idea about that. And I think that's Dr Walker, I mean, I read in his book that he is so passionate about this topic. I love that. He's so passionate about the topic of sleep, his research, and his book. And it comes across.

LEA:  It does. Definitely. I think a large majority of people totally underestimate how important sleep really is to our health and our wellbeing. So, I'm going to share a couple of eye-opening facts to get your attention. If a person has a very rare genetic disease that causes progressive-type insomnia, they gradually get less and less sleep.

DAR:  I honestly didn't even know that there was such a disease.

LEA: That's the first time I had come across this. And with this disease, after 12 to 18 months of not sleeping, the person will die. And then there are those auto accidents from lack of sleep. One person dies in a fatigue related crap traffic accident every hour in the United States. And that's even more than alcohol and drug related accidents. And oftentimes people don't think they're inflicting harm by being tired driving. And not realizing what an impact that is on their life and everybody else's.

DAR: Today, there are over 2 million people worldwide who are either overweight or obese. We talk about that all the time. If you're trying to lose weight, you need to ask yourself, “Am I getting seven and a half, eight, nine hours of sleep most nights?” So, here's the science of a slow metabolism and lack of sleep. The lack of sleep increases the hormone that makes you feel hungry while decreasing another hormone which signals your brain that you are full and satisfied. A slow metabolism is not from a lack of exercise, but it could definitely be from a lack of sleep.

LEA: Yeah. And I talk to clients all the time about this in consultations who have weight loss as a goal and they're not sleeping very much, four to five hours a night, but getting up super early to the gym and I have put clients do the test. I said “Okay, so this obviously isn't helping for your weight loss. So, as we we’re working on the food piece let’s also prioritize more sleep.” And low and behold, sleep always trumps working out. I love working out. I'm an avid person that loves to work out, but I will never sleep less to work out more.

CAROLYN: That leads perfectly into my next point. Unfortunately, most of our clients or many of our clients think they're really doing the right thing by getting up really early and working out at the gym before they go to work. And they're only getting that five hours of sleep. That's very common. And they just can't seem to lose weight. So, guess who's frustrated? Not just our clients, but that trainer is really frustrated as well with their lack of weight loss. So, what does the trainer do? The trainer doesn't understand the importance of sleep, so they want that person to work out some more. Sign up for a boot camp. Get up first thing in the morning so that you get everything in your metabolism really, really going. But again, that doesn't work, right? That boot camp doesn't work. So, again, most trainers just under estimate the importance of sleep and how that affects people and those weight loss hormones. So, getting up without adequate sleep actually slows the metabolism even if you are working out extra.

LEA:  So, on the flip side, if you are getting adequate sleep, then your body is more responsive to physical activity and you're able to gain more muscle tissue and break down more body fat. So, your workouts are more effective. So, all the people that signed up for boot camp just have to go to bed earlier. 8:00 or 9:00. They have to be in bed. I've negotiated that with some clients. They've done it. If that's when they like to work out, that's fine.

And here is a powerful statement by Dr Walker made in his book, Why We Sleep, “There does not seem to be one major organ within the body or process within the brain that isn't optimally enhanced by sleep and detrimentally and impaired when we don't get enough sleep. So again, a slow metabolism isn't from a lack of exercise. It is often from a lack of sleep.

DAR: And here's something else that's interesting and Lea talked about this already, which was even more interesting, “If you're losing weight and also lacking sleep, you're actually losing muscle mass and not the fat.” So, you end up with even a slower metabolism because we all know that muscle burns more calories. And so, it's worth repeating. “To lose fat, you need to have sufficient sleep, because when you lack sleep, your body will lose muscle mass and not fat.”

LEA:  Maybe the scale is lower potentially, but you're losing what you need to keep with weight off.

CAROLYN: But we also know that muscle weighs more than fat. So, people are misled sometimes by that scale. And I tell my clients all the time, “Don't be so obsessed with the scale. Let's get everything else in order first and then we'll worry about the scale.”

DAR: That's one of the reasons that we do not have people weigh in during Nutrition 4 Weight Loss because we don't want them obsessed with that.

LEA: And then from my experience, too, when I started weight training and gaining muscle tissue, I gained 10 pounds but I lost a dress size. And I've sustained that weight. It really had been that muscle gain. Getting that muscle tissue has really helped me keep a normal weight and keep body fat off. And originally I lost 50 pounds. And it's break time already.


LEA: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. We have a caller today. Deb, you have a question for us about sleep?

CALLER:  Yes, does that seven and a half to eight hours of sleep mean straight sleep without waking up during the night?

DAR: Well, if possible, that would be great. I don't think it's possible for a lot of people because a lot of people have to make the bathroom break, but if you could get the four hours and then another four hours and get right back to sleep, that's perfect then.

CAROLYN: Well, there are so many interesting facts and research studies in Dr. Walker's book, Why We Sleep. I think most of our listeners know what harm may come to them if they're not getting eight to nine hours of sleep most nights. But I have a really interesting fact that was brought to light when President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher both prided themselves on getting and only really needing four to five hours of sleep a night. And guess what? They both ended up with Alzheimer’s disease. Very interesting. Do you think there was a connection with that? Absolutely.

DAR: So, more and more research that is quoted throughout the book has found that getting too little sleep throughout your adult lifespan significantly increases your risk of developing Alzheimer's. And we said it once, we keep saying it over and over.

LEA: So, if you become a family with a lot Alzheimer's disease, think of this as great prevention for development. Now, we believe if we can help improve your quality of sleep, we will be able to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's. Current clinical studies in which middle aged and older adults have had their sleep disorders successfully treated, reported their cognitive decline slowed significantly and delayed the onset of Alzheimer's by five to 10 years. That is very significant.

DAR:  And I always try to put this into reality, which means if you are 80 now with a little bit of memory problem, I would guess a lot of people at eighty have a little bit of memory problem. You could potentially, if you've got enough sleep, slow down and delay your memory loss until you're in your nineties. Wow, that's great.

CAROLYN:  So, it really may surprise you to learn that as a Dietitian, I help people get rid of their insomnia and poor sleeping habits and of course all my fellow nutritionists at Nutritional Weight & Wellness also do that. And sometimes it's a really simple solution like having a healthy snack before going to bed at night and that will help them maintain their blood sugar balance throughout the night. Because a lot of times people wake up and it's their brain waking them up and they don't really know why they're waking up. Or it could be something as easy as taking 400 to 600 milligrams of magnesium glycinate before going to bed. Or, Lea, you just said giving up that afternoon coffee. That can be a big one, too.

LEA:  Or any coffee. I cut it out all the way. And some people are that sensitive. Some people not. They can have one in the morning and they're good.

CAROLYN: I had a chocolate the other night before bed and that threw me.

DAR: So, we agree with Dr. Walker that insufficient sleep is only one risk factor associated with Alzheimer's disease. Sleep alone may not be the magic bullet that eradicates Alzheimer's disease or dementia but getting eight to nine hours of sleep most nights, is clearly becoming a significant factor for lowering your Alzheimer's disease and dementia risk. And again, it's such a simple solution. So, the question is for you, would you be willing to go to bed early enough so you can actually get eight to nine hours of sleep? Getting short sleep or insufficient sleep is a serious lifestyle habit that we need to overcome. Short sleep is no longer a badge of success, but rather it is a badge of poor health. So, should we take a caller?

LEA: Yeah, that would be great. We have Pat. Pat, thanks for calling Dishing Up Nutrition. You have a question for us today?

CALLER: Well, I've heard of the man who invented the sewing machine and the man who finally figured out the spiral of DNA. And they had both tried and studied for years and years to figure these things out. But it was in dreams. When they woke up from a dream is when they solved the problem.

CAROLYN:  Well, you hit the nail on the head. Dr. Walker talks about that exact example.

CALLER: But, I think sometimes when I wake up from a nap or sleeping in the morning, things that I've been, maybe it was 10 years ago, something was bothering me or maybe it was yesterday, but suddenly when I wake up, even though I don't remember it coming in a dream, I think the sleep helped me to reach the solution because all of a sudden, I can see the solution. And I think the other thing I noticed when you said that about Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, since before that, since dementia, one of the symptoms is often people fall asleep in meetings. I think maybe the brain is trying to help itself and defend itself by getting extra sleep.

CAROLYN: Well, Pat, I think you would really enjoy this book, Why We Sleep by Dr. Walker.

DAR: Yup, you would. And exactly what you're finding is true. You have to get into that rem sleep, which is that deep sleep, for your brain to kind of detox and actually repair itself.

CALLER:Today's my 70th birthday. And I’m thinking that perhaps when people first start noticing their memory's slipping, besides taking the Gingko Biloba and doing all the other good things, maybe you should try to give yourself more time to sleep or more naps or something like that. And maybe it will help you.

DAR: Yeah, I agree with you. Thanks for calling. Good comments.

LEA: I really enjoyed reading the research and understanding how in this book that sleep affects our health. Dr. Walker said the effects of sleep deprivation will seep into every nook and cranny biologically down to our cells and even altering your most fundamental self, Your DNA. Basically, the shorter you sleep, the shorter your life, as we were talking about earlier, right? The leading causes of disease and death such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, cancer, all have links to lack of sleep.

DAR:  So, let's look at a lack of sleep and heart disease. I like the simple way that Dr. Walker described it. “Unhealthy sleep, unhealthy heart.” Here's some interesting findings from his research. So, they found a Japanese study of more than 4,000 male workers found that those who slept six hours or less over a 14-year period were 400 to 500 percent more likely to suffer from one or more cardiac arrests, which means heart attack, than those who slept more than six hours nightly.

CAROLYN: That's an amazing statistic, isn't it? I can't even believe it. So, another study found that adults 45 years or older who slept fewer than six hours a night are 200 percent more likely to have a heart attack or stroke compared to those who slept seven to eight hours. So, do you currently have high blood pressure and are not getting eight to nine hours of sleep? Maybe it's time that you have a sleep study or even better make an appointment with one of our Nutritional Weight & Wellness Nutritionists or Dietitians. This is really no laughing matter. It's very, very important. We're talking about serious health problems from lack of sleep. So, here's some interesting research that he presented about heart disease. So, let's talk about one cause of coronary artery blockage in the plaque that contains calcium deposits. Everyone's talking about these. Researchers at the University of Chicago studied nearly 500 healthy middle-aged adults, none of whom had any existing heart disease. These were really healthy people. They studied those 500 people, assessed them, and recorded their sleep and found those individuals who slept five or six hours each night or even less were 200 to 300 percent more likely to suffer calcification of the coronary arteries than those who slept seven or eight hours. So, there you have it. Lack of sleep linked to blockages in coronary arteries. We've been told all along that it is cholesterol.

CAROLYN:  Yes. It’s so hard to convince people it’s not cholesterol. It’s calcification from lack of sleep.


DAR: Well, welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. In our Nutrition 4 Weight Loss program, we're always trying to help people understand the connection between a slow metabolism and a lack of sleep or not losing weight and a lack of sleep. So, Dr. Walker said in his book, “The less you sleep, the more you eat.”

LEA:   It’s very true. There are multiple forces conspiring to expand your waistline and when your sleep is short, you will gain weight. And here's one example. Many night nurses struggle with weight gain because they are often living on only a few hours of sleep here and a few hours there, right? It's just not consistent. It's not quality sleep. Which is usually ending up to maybe four or five hours a day. After working the night shift for a few weeks, they suddenly start gaining weight. So, what is happening to their body biochemically? Lack of sleep decreases the Hormone Leptin, which tells your brain, “I am not hungry,” but it also increases the other hormone that tells your brain, “I am hungry.”

CAROLYN: Oh yeah, right. But, you know what? You don't have to be a night nurse for this to happen. But it happens actually to all of us when we're only getting that five to six hours of sleep a night. People who sleep less eat about 300 calories more per day and that's usually healthy food, but then another 300 calories daily of those snack foods. Researchers from the University of Chicago found that when we lack sleep, our cravings for sweets, like cookies, cake, ice cream, and some of those really heavy hitting carbs like bread and pasta and salty snacks like potato chips and pretzels, they all increased by 30 to 40 percent.

LEA:  I can really tell like with little kids and newborns and only getting about that amount of sleep. My blood sugar is a lot more sensitive. I started thinking about foods that really are not part of my diet now. I eat really well, but very easily, even after one night I can tell. It makes a big difference. It's interesting that the lack of sleep actually affects the function of our prefrontal Cortex, which is the needed for those thoughtful judgment and control. Just one more reason why getting enough sleep helps people control their weight.

DAR:  So, we also work with a lot of couples who are having fertility issues. And it's surprising, research found that a lack of sleep also resolved in a lack of testosterone. Also, men who experience insufficient sleep have a 25 percent lower sperm count than those with adequate sleep. Who would’ve ever thought?

LEA:  And guys tend to be one of those creatures of habit who pride on getting those little hours of sleep and working long hours.

CAROLYN: Yeah, so let's talk about how lack of sleep affects our immune system because I think that's really important. And when we think of our immune system, most of us think about how we could get through like the cold and flu season that we just went through. Have you noticed that when you get a runny nose or achy body or a sore throat, you have that total loss of energy and all you want to do is curl up in bed and sleep? I know I'm that way. It's as if your body is trying to trying to sleep itself well. And our immune system is really smart and knows that sleep is going to help fight off sickness.

LEA:  Right. When we get sick, our immune system actively engages the sleep system and demands more bed rest and sleep. So, the less sleep you get during the cold and flu season, the more likely you will become infected and come down with cold or flu. In fact, research found that people who slept only five hours a night on average had a 50 percent infection rate.

DAR: Oh my gosh. That's amazing, isn't it? So, if we take this just one step further, all this information about sleep and how it directly impacts our immune system, this is so interesting. It's like we're protecting people from a variety of infectious diseases such as the common cold, the flu, the pneumonia, which are all leading causes of death, which was also very interesting to me. I had no idea that that was one of the leading causes of death. So, if we can help people sleep during the cold and flu season, we'll probably have less hospitalizations.

CAROLYN:  And the other thing I found really interesting is that our immunizations were so much more effective if we slept really well. Isn't that interesting?

LEA:  Yes. We use our immune system to fight off colds and flus, but more importantly, we use our immune system to fight off cancer. It's unfortunate, but the lack of sleep can lead to a weakened immune function because sleep deprivation slows our natural killer cell activity, and many studies have found that nighttime shift workers are more at risk of developing numerous forms of cancer, including breast cancer, prostate cancer, uterine cancer, and colon cancer.

DAR:  That's kind of interesting and I think that's eye-opening for people. Dr. Walker reported in his book, Why We Sleep, that a year at large European study of almost 2,500 people show that sleeping six hours or less is associated with a 40 percent increased risk of developing cancer.

CAROLYN: So, as you're listening to today's show, either live or by a podcast, are you starting to realize the importance of getting at least seven and a half to eight hours of sleep most nights? If you're not getting this much sleep, what do you need to change so that you are getting that?

DAR: I don't think people realize that as nutritionists and dieticians, more than 90 percent of our clients are having sleeping problems.

CAROLYN:  Even if they tell you they're not, when you dig deeper, we usually find that there is some kind of disruption or at least was some kind of disruption that would then cause one of these disease states.

LEA: And we have a large toolbox of ways to help remedy bad sleep and everyone's different with what is their problem with sleep. Is that falling asleep? Is it staying asleep? Is it restless sleep?

DAR: There are different supplements that help and I think the other thing that was in his book that was so important is about these prescription sleep aids.

CAROLYN: That was an amazing statistic that they are really not good. They don't give you quality sleep. And they actually mimic natural sleep.

DAR: So, we work with things like a little bit of magnesium. We have people have a little bit of a snack before they go to bed. We look at maybe even calcium. That one might help. We'll look at maybe a little bit of melatonin, which is totally safe both for children and for adults. We look at all-natural things.

LEA:  We do. And our goal at Nutritional Weight & Wellness is to help each and every person experience better health through eating real food. It's a simple, yet powerful message. Eating real food is life changing. I want to thank all of you for listening today.

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