Show Notes: Sleep Hygiene with Dr. Matt Carter
In this episode, sleep-deprived John Dennis learns about the importance of healthy sleep habits with Dr. Matt Carter. Listen in as Dr. Carter shares strategies that can help you get a better night’s sleep!
Meet Dr. Matt Carter
Dr. Matt Carter received his PhD in neuroscience from Stanford University. Currently, Dr. Carter is an Associate Professor of Biology at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts where he teaches classes on Neuroscience and Physiology, Sleep Science, Neural & Hormonal Basis for Hunger. He has also given TED talks on the importance of sleep for productivity. You can contact Dr. Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org or go on the Biology Department website for Williams College and click on his picture.
Sleep deprivation is not considered by many to be as detrimental as other lifestyle habits like unhealthy eating and smoking—but it is. People don’t realize how unhealthy it is.
Reasons Why People Are Sleep Deprived
- They are busy doing other things: people want to get more done, so they cut down on sleep to have more time.
- College students: no routines for sleep, every night is different, social distractions
- Parents of young children—middle of the night wakings
Myths about Sleep
- Quality vs. quantity—people think that one is more important than the other; however, both are equally important.
- Sleep isn’t that important/productivity is more important/4-5 hours is fine: this is not true. Productivity actually goes down when you are sleep deprived, and 4-5 hours is not nearly enough for most people.
- Regularity of quantity is not important ie: it’s ok to pull an all nighter occasionally. Staying up all night takes a long time to recover from. Also, the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation are important—if you are routinely short 3-4 hours of sleep per night, your “sleep debt” accumulates, and you can’t catch up by sleeping in on the weekends.
- Sleep deprivation isn’t harmful: yes, it is. There was a long-term sleep deprivation study done on rats that showed that life expectancy was linked to the amount of sleep deprivation.
How do you improve sleep quality?
- Environment: reduce noise, lights, temperature, etc
- Stress: reduce stress—ie: write down things that are on your mind before bed
- Food you eat before bed: Carbs & sugar both decrease your sleep quality–disrupt brain rhythms, triggers wakefulness systems. A handful of nuts is much better for your sleep.
- Alcohol: although you may fall asleep faster, you will not sleep as well. Alcohol is metabolized by the liver as carbohydrate/sugar, which triggers wakefulness systems and interrupts sleep/wake cycles
- Phones, tablets, TV, all screens: Any screens will inhibit sleep. The light goes to the hypothalamus, which tells your brain to stay awake. Also, anything interesting or exciting that you are watching/reading before bed will increase dopamine in your body, which causes you to stay awake. Recommended to turn off all screens 1-2 hours before bedtime.
- Microarousals: an event during sleep where your brain is slightly awake. Causes fragmented sleep, reduced sleep quality, you gain fewer benefits of sleep (learning, memory, etc) Caused by carbs, stress, dopamine.
What about dimming your phone/using “Night Mode” or something like that?
- This is still not healthy for sleep because although the night mode can help to decrease the blue light that causes you to stay awake, it still doesn’t solve the problem of dopamine, which arouses your attention and makes it hard to wind down. Screens are one of the worst things you can do before bed.
What are some strategies for anxiety or racing thoughts during the night?
- Write down your thoughts in a journal
- Start reading a book to distract/focus your thoughts
- Listen to some music
How can parents handle nighttime waking with kids?
- Kids are usually looking for comfort
- Different things work for different kids
- Nightmares/night terrors: many times caused by things the kids see during the day
For adults—how do you know when to go to a sleep specialist vs. seeing a therapist for your sleep problems?
- For many sleep problems, ie; sleep apnea, people don’t know they have it. A significant other can help to identify problems
- See your primary care doctor to determine what would be the most beneficial for you
How much sleep do you need?
- Most adults need 6-8 hours
- To determine how much sleep you need:
- Get a regular amount of sleep for a while—pay off your “sleep debt”
- See how long you sleep without setting an alarm—ie: during a vacation or during Christmas break, summer, etc.
- This can be tricky if you have kids. Just do the best you can!
- Try to block off 8-9 hours to see what happens
Are naps beneficial?
- If you are tired, you should sleep. Even a 20 minute nap can help some people feel refreshed and be more productive
Shift Work, Parenting small kids, etc—how does this affect health?
- Objectively, it’s not ideal. However, it’s the reality for many people
- Just do the best you can with what you’ve got.