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Professor Matt Walker – Sleep Scientist

Story by Emmjay

So, FM said over breakfast “I bet you’re exhausted”. I said I was – but how did she know ? Was it THAT obvious ?

You snored all night.

Well, the wash up of that was a wee bit of nose surgery, which was not as disgusting or painful as I imagined it might be. Possibly tempered by coming out of anaesthesia and awakening to a lovely blond angel. I wondered whether I had in fact died and gone to heaven, she was so beautiful. If that was the case, I thought things were looking promising.

But the surgery proved to be of marginal benefit at best and some time later I agreed with my GP and enrolled in a sleep study.

The wired of Oz

The results were truly amazing. Apart from the challenge of sleeping in a hospital bed all wired up all night – plugged into a machine that monitors everything – brain waves, oxygen saturation, wakefulness – was the ignominy of having to ask the sleep technician to unplug me a couple of times to answer the call of nature.

Cutting to the chase, I was almost waking up – that is just short of actually opening the eyes, up to 60 times an hour. This is caused by my floppy airways collapsing, my oxygen level falling and the good old brain saving my life time and time again by (almost) waking me up. While it’s quite nice to be kept alive, what’s not so nice is to be constantly exhausted because my quality of sleep was so appallingly bad. This had serious impacts on my effectiveness at work and I was struggling to stay awake by 2:00 in the afternoon. So I loaded up with caffeine – which would later make things even worse.

It’s considered normal to have periods of deep sleep, light sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and dreaming and to wake up a few times, but the obvious treatment for me was to get a Continuous Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP) machine. My wake-ups fell from an average of 58 to 8 per hour. Then 5, and sometimes 3. Five light sleep periods – almost wake-ups is regarded as normal. And although having a face mask and scuba-like tubing does nothing to increase my attractiveness for FM, I am now sleeping solidly not for a long time – maybe 5-6 hours a night, but the quality of my sleep has rocketed up.

I have started to dream again – and remember some, in colour and often. These are markers of achieving some deep sleep and there are lovely consequences – like being far less forgetful and a lot more energetic the next day.

Which brings me to Professor Matt Walker.

A couple of days ago I chanced to encounter a TeD talk (the first of several) by the good professor and he shed an incredible amount of light on the subject. Like what’s happening in the brain during sleep and the rather serious effects of sleep deprivation – including the terror of Alzheimers disease. The biology is fascinating to say the least.

He discusses the surprising effects of caffeine (a stimulant, obviously) and alcohol (a sedative). His discussions are compelling reasons to have a think about how much – and when in the day one might imbibe. Matt isn’t a hard line wowser, but research findings like – caffeine has a half life of 12 hours – which means even a coffee at breakfast will still result in half that caffeine being in the body at bedtime. So we sleep less well, get up with a quarter of yesterday’s caffeine still floating around, feel a bit slow and depend on an other cup of coffee to get going. Do you see where this is heading ?

Did you know that while alcohol in the evening makes us relax and sometimes fall asleep, later in the night the party is still going on in the brain and the housekeeping (like committing today’s thoughts to long term memory) and cleaning up (servicing the brain engine – flushing out the biochemical waste) don’t get done. Which I reckon sounds bad.

Anyway – Prof Matthew Walker is the real deal and I can see why his book “Why we Sleep – the New Science of Sleep and Dreams” has become a massive best seller.

Take the time to have a look at a few short videos – and you will see not just that which he says, is an interesting and powerful message, but that his presentation and organisation of thought are really excellent.

Here you go…..

This talk has had 11 million views. ELEVEN MILLION !

But there are others – he tends to present every year or so on TED and there are lots of useful tips on how to improve your sleep – without going to CPAP – but he does say that if you have sleep apnoea, you need to get that looked at as a first priority.

See you. I’m off for a snooze