10 science-backed benefits of getting over 7 hours sleep

Last week I tuned in to a podcast about the science of sleep and it blew my mind. It is a must-listen.

Joe Rogan interviewed Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, and Founder and Director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science.

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He went into detail about the harm that not having enough sleep does to us at every level, classifying ‘enough’ as at least 7 hours.

Here’s a summary of some of the most eyebrow-raising facts about what happens when you don’t get enough sleep:

  1. It’s like being drunk: people think they’re fine, but when tested they underperform horrendously at even basic tasks.
  2. It can make you more prone to cancer and Alzheimer’s. Two famous minimal sleepers were Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, and both died of the latter.
  3. Your prefrontal cortex stops working, which means you become worse at concentrating and decision-making, and more emotional and impulsive.
  4. You eat, on average, 200 calories more per day, and you eat more sugary, high-carb foods. There is a direct correlation between the rise in obesity and the decline in sleep over the past few decades. That fact actually made me say ‘Wow!’ out loud.
  5. CEOs are described as being less charismatic by their employees.
  6. When students at a school in Virginia had their school start-time moved from 7.30 am to 8.30 am, there was a dramatic improvement in SATS scores and a 70% reduction in car accidents.
  7. Using an iPad for an hour before bed delays the onset of deep sleep by 3 hours compared with reading a book.
  8. Being awake for 20 hours is the equivalent of being legally drunk. If you’re going under the knife, always ask the surgeon how much he’s slept in the last 24 hours. You wouldn’t take the risk if he was swigging from a whisky bottle.
  9. Patients in hospital take longer to recover.
  10. Footballers are more likely to get injured.

I used to minimise my time in the land of nod to around 6.5 hours, which is slightly under the 6.8 UK average. My philosophy was ‘sleep when you’re dead.’

According to Walker, this is a terrible false economy because it will cause you to live a shorter, more unhappy, less healthy and less productive life.

My attitude changed a few years ago when I read Thrive, a book by the co-founder and editor of The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington. It cites studies on how athletes who said they were fine on 6.5 hours’ sleep dramatically improved their performance when they increased it to 8–9 hours.

When I increased mine to 7.5–8 hours, I soon found I was waking up more easily and with more energy, drank less caffeine and didn’t have such a slump in the afternoon. I felt fresher, my mind was clearer and my concentration improved.

If I have one bad night’s sleep, these improvements all go into reverse and I definitely overeat and reach for the caffeine and sugar, desperate to find something to pump up my energy.

I think the reason we’re sleeping less and our school days are starting earlier is our culture’s busyness fetish: a counter-productive and self-destructive strategy to justify your existence through how much you’ve achieved and how many people’s requests you’ve satisfied.

For many people, the first thing they think when they wake up is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep’, and the last thing they think is ‘I didn’t get enough done.’

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a busy person, but I’m in recovery! I sleep more, meditate in the morning (a practice of doing nothing) and am getting better at saying no to things.

One of the main things I help clients with now is taking control of their time, so that they’re more productive, work fewer hours and sleep more.

If this is something you’d like help with, book a call and we’ll discuss whether I can help.

My work is all about love. Loving yourself, loving other people and loving the earth. I do that through writing, podcasting, coaching, running workshops.

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