Sleep Matters - The Impact Sleep Has on Our General Health

I recently listened to a podcast that featured Dr. Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, whose work I’ve been following for some time now. Dr. Walker is the Founder and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science and the author of “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams”. When it comes to taking care of and tending to my personal health, I see four facets that play together. Sleep, obviously, is a major factor.
  • Diet (healthy eating)
  • Environment (pollution, physical surroundings)
  • Stress (managing + reducing it)
  • Sleep (quantity + quality)
For a while now, I’ve been tracking my sleep because, for a long time, I struggled with getting a full eight hours per night. I’ve tried natural remedies like crystal healing or sourcing plants I could keep in the bedroom that have been proven to help with sleep. In the podcast linked above—which I highly recommend listening to—Dr. Walker recommends getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night. He goes on to share that research shows anything less than seven hours can negatively affect all facets of our overall health. Here are some pretty crazy facts that I had no idea about regarding sleep and how it impacts our health!


FACT 1. Men who sleep five to six hours per night will have the testosterone levels of someone 10 years their senior. That is to say it can age you by up to 10 years, give you a lack of virility and muscle strength, and reduce sexual performance. FACT 2. Half of your brain will not sleep as deeply as the other half when you’re travelling. This is a “threat detection reaction” from being in a foreign environment. That half won’t enter the REM sleep cycle, remaining in a lighter stage of sleep. FACT 3. Marijuana has been seen to help put people to sleep quicker. The problem, however, is that it disrupts REM sleep in a way that negatively impacts it, sometimes shutting it down and blocking it all together. I love something that Dr. Walker shared in the episode: he said “It took Mother Nature 3.6 million years to establish this eight-hour sleep cycle for us. And in the last 100 years or so, we’ve been knocking it back by almost 20 percent—which is terrible for us.”
It took mother nature 3.6 million years to establish this eight-hour sleep cycle for us. And in the last 100 years or so, we’ve been knocking that back by almost 20 percent— which is terrible for us.


A lot of the content shared in the podcast was super interesting and informational, but it was also completely new for me. I guess I’d never properly done the research myself before. So, in a (tiny) effort to measure the sleep health of my generation, and compare the results to see how I stack up, I opened up a few polls to my Instagram followers (20.5k followers at the time the poll was taken). Some of the questions + answers are listed here: Q1: on average, I am asleep for less than six (6) hours per night.
    • True: 27%
    • False: 73%
Q2: on average, I am asleep between 6 – 7 hours per night.
    • True: 54%
    • False: 46%
Q3: on average, I am asleep between 7 – 8 hours per night.
    • True: 57%
    • False: 43%
Q4: on average, I am asleep between 8 – 9 hours per night.
    • True: 31%
    • False: 69%
Q5: on average, I am asleep for more than nine (9) hours per night.
    • True: 6%
    • False: 94%
Q6: Do you often feel stressed, tired, high-strung, anxious, and/or sluggish.
    • True: 69%
    • False: 31%
Question six highlights just some of the words our generation is using to describe how they feel on a daily basis. Lack of sleep and feeling tired was a common theme among many responders. Dr. Walker states that more than half the American population isn’t getting the recommended seven to nine hours per night. And one-third of the population is trying to survive on less than six hours per night.
Why is it that our generation isn’t getting enough sleep? Is it us?
Conditional factors? Diet? Pollution? Constant adrenal stimulation? Being overworked? Or worse, all of the above? I think it’s pretty clear to many of us that getting a full night’s rest is key to overall good health. The science behind it, though, is what drives me to learn more.
Getting a full night’s sleep helps to expel a buildup of fluid in the brain, clearing out toxins and stress hormones that have accumulated during the day.
If a full night of quality sleep allows our mind, body, muscles, and organs to rest and recover, why are so many of us suffering from sleep loss? I honestly believe that for a lot of us, particularly those working in corporate, our lack of sleep is a combination of:
  • Being overworked
  • Constant adrenal stimulation
  • Too much screen-time
  • Diets high in sugar + starchy carbs, but low in fiber


“Diets high in sugar and starchy carbohydrates and low in fiber, those diets tend not to be good for sleep. You tend to have less deep sleep and also more fragmented sleep throughout the night.” – Dr. Walker I can personally relate to losing sleep, particularly when I was working the corporate 9:00-5:00, (really it was 7:00-5:45), juggling several projects and careers at once. Though I still today experience sleep loss from time to time, I’m getting better at identifying the culprit and correcting it.


A part of the podcast that really struck me was on underslept employees and the impact on our workforce. Studies show that underslept employees:
  • Will take on fewer work challenges overall
  • Take on simpler tasks or challenges and rely more on their peers
  • Produce fewer creative solutions to challenges they’ve been given
  • Will slack off more and exhibit “social loafing” where they “coast” on the work of their colleagues
Lack of sleep doesn’t discriminate, though. It goes all the way up to the top with the leaders themselves.
Studies show that the more or less sleep a business leader gets the prior night, the more or less charismatic their employees will rate that business leader despite them knowing nothing at all about the sleep of that CEO or leader. It’s evident in their behavior, their nature, their posture and countenance, and interactions with others. The ultimate takeaway for business leaders and those working in corporate: less sleep does not equal more productivity. We really shouldn’t be over-evaluating employees who under-sleep.


Some of the natural remedies I’ve tried include:
  • Adding plants to the bedroom
  • Using the lavender-scented Saje “sleep well” kit
  • Lighting vanilla and lavender candles before bed
  • Flora’s Sleep•Essence, natural sleep aid
  • Soaking in an Epsom salt bath before bed
  • Eliminating food, exercise and water intake two hours before bed
  • Meditation, alone and/or with the use of phone apps
Some meditation apps really do seem to help in the moment but not as it relates to deeper, more significant nights of sleep. You may know of my affinity for the health brand Flora from previous collaborations with them: I recently came across a sleep aid on their website called Sleep•Essence (US/CA). And I liked it. I found that it really did help me to fall asleep more quickly, and I found that I tossed and turned less while using it. It’s a natural sleep aid, entirely organic, and formulated primarily from chamomile flower, lemon balm, lavender flower, linden flower, passion flower aerial parts, and other natural ingredients.


From some of the research I’ve done online and some of what Dr. Walker shared in the podcast, here are tips to help fall asleep and have a more meaningful, quality night’s rest:
  • Make the room cold – at least 3-4 degrees below room temperature.
  • Keeps hands and feet warm where possible. (i.e., wearing socks on your feet).
  • Adjust your diet or time that you eat so that you aren’t going to bed too full or too hungry. (Hunger can signal your brain that you’re going into low-level starvation).
“We need to radically rethink the way we approach sleep in general life, business, education, and medicine.” – Dr. Walker
Prioritizing sleep above all else.
I’ve seen many under-slept employees be over-evaluated for what they could accomplish on so little sleep, only to reach a breaking point soon afterward. As a society, we’ve seen business leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, both vociferous with their statements of only getting four to five hours of sleep. Yet, both ended up developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
Less sleep does not equal more productivity.
My biggest learning in all of this is just how important sleep is (if not more important than diet) to our overall, general health. I really do believe that our general health comes down to four factors: diet, environment, stress, and sleep. And each has to be tended to carefully, but sleep IS and SHOULD ALWAYS be a high priority. If you aren’t currently getting between 7-9 hours, rethink your approach. Be good to your body. Listen to your body. Give yourself what you need. Sleep. Nick Joly is a self-confessed health-nut who loves getting creative in the kitchen. When not sharing recipes and lifestyle inspiration on his blog & Instagram, he can be found either at the yoga studio getting his namaste on or at the grocery store joyously discovering new products to use at home.