The Miracle Cure

It’s the “best effort yet at immortality” – Matt Walker

There’s a natural remedy I use every night that I attribute to my success. But there’s a certain danger to it. When done improperly, you keep 55% more body fat and lose 60% more lean muscle mass [1]. Researcher Matt Walker notes that your immune system goes awry with natural killer cells dropping 70%. There is an uptake in activation in the hundreds of tumor promoting and chronic inflammation genes. And your memory retention could drop up to 40%, the difference between and A and an F on a test [2]. And research has shown that your insulin sensitivity drops drastically following a poor night’s sleep. With these and more issues in health and productivity, you might ask what makes this remedy even worth undertaking. The reason is because whether we like it or not, we all undertake this remedy each day. So it is clearly in our best interest to find a way to do this properly. What I’m referring to is our sleep.

The Sleep Deficit

It is clear though that there is a lack of sleep in our society. The Journal of Adolescent Health reports that only 8% of teenagers are getting the recommended amount of sleep [4]. And the CDC also reports that more than a 1/3rd of adults are not getting their recommended amount [5]. More and more research reveals sleep’s importance and yet our sleep deficit is only getting larger.

The reason is not simple. Technology and artificial lighting has disrupted our sleep cycles. The heavy workload given to students leads to a habit of having sleepless nights. And a culture that values sacrificing sleeps either for work or leisure certainly doesn’t help. But most of these things are being counterbalanced. Blue light filters are more prominent and sleep is being put on a higher pedestal today. So what is still causing this issue?

The issue is a prioritization of sleep. Blue light filters don’t change the fact that we are watching YouTube too late. Valuing sleep doesn’t change the amount of work we feel we need to finish instead of resting. If we want to normalize our sleep schedules, we have to take an active role in ensuring that, no matter the circumstance, we will get our desired levels of sleep.

The Essential Idea

The core idea of focusing on those things essential to you is to be able to rule out most things that are actually non-essential to your life and happiness. And it is important to realize that health is an essential aspect of any person’s life. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, pushes that “if we underinvest in ourselves… our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution [to the world]” [6]. And sleep is one of the primary markers of our health. This means we can’t let non-essential aspects of our life interrupt our essential sleep.

When I have to sacrifice my sleep schedule even for one night, I run through a list of questions. Can I do this task tomorrow? Can I ensure this situation doesn’t repeat itself? And if this is happening often, just how essential is this to my life compared to my health? I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a household that has valued sleep when others told me I needed to be busy working. But it was only when I decided to prioritize it that I stuck to a healthy sleep schedule all days of the week. I do have days where I decide to endure through some other task. But never without the understanding of the dramatic effect on my health and body. And from that simple shift I’ve been able to reschedule my work and activities to ensure that I am consistently getting a healthy night’s sleep. Not only that, but my work became much more productive and I’ve enjoyed my days and time spent with others more fulfillingly. But that required me to sometimes stop a study session short or not commit to completing a homework assignment because I knew my best long-term performance was dictated by my health.

If you haven’t already set yourself a sleep schedule, don’t walk away today just thinking you’ve learned why sleep is important. You already knew that. Instead, when you do end up staying up late in the future, examine closely what it is exactly you’re doing. Is this, in the long-term, an essential aspect of your life? More essential than your health? You are always making a trade-off. If you do decide to stay up late to work or for leisure, don’t be naive in believing there is no harm. Each of these decisions requires a sacrifice. That choice can only be made by you. But understand that, even if it doesn’t seem so, you have the ability to say no to other opportunities if needed. It’s up to you to take responsibility and prioritize your health as an essential aspect of your life.

I’m quite frankly tired of hearing the excuse that one has too much to do in a day for sleep. There is arguably only a small percentage of people in the world who are working so incredibly and meaningfully all day that they prioritize it over their health since 16 hours a day isn’t enough for them. Those people consciously made that sacrifice and it was their choice. But the vast majority of us not only want, but need, to have stable levels of sleep. Don’t believe the idea that low levels of sleep are an indication of the high level of work someone is doing. It’s primarily an indication of their inability to differentiate what is essential and what is non-essential in their life to the point that they can’t even focus on their health.

As Matt Walker believes, “Sleep, unfortunately, is not an optional life-style luxury. It is a non-negotiable, biological necessity”.

[1] Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2951287/

[2] Sleep is Your Superpower | Matt Walker – TED https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MuIMqhT8DM&t=932s

[3] Sleep Restriction for 1 Week Reduces Insulin Sensitivity in Healthy Men

https://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/59/9/2126

[4] Why are Teenagers so Sleep Deprived?

[5] 1 in 3 Adults Don’t Get Enough Sleep

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html

[6] Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown

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