‘Why We Sleep’

I’ve been reading a lot of physical books from our town library since the holidays. Reading has been a healthy way to escape from the news of the day.

And, now that the HBS semester has ended, I have more time. On the VC front, I also have more time: the companies on whose boards I serve are either at or above their target top-line numbers. It’s a classic part of the VC job. The struggling companies need your help. When a company is doing well, the CEOs want VCs to do this: stay out of the way.

And last, I’m trying to get away from screens. I was getting a lot of Zoom headaches in December and reading physical books has been a great way to rest my eyes while also continuing to learn.

One particularly great book is Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep.

As you age, your sleep patterns change and you get less sleep and less good sleep. For me, I nearly always get up naturally between 3 am and 5 am after six-ish hours of sleep. I’m not tired during the day but a part of me has FOMO about it: what if I slept a solid eight hours?

Walker does a great job of explaining how less sleep is greatly correlated with cancer, diabetes, heart issues, weight gain, anxiety, and a plethora of other ailments. He writes about how “sleep” comprises of four to six 90-minute cycles that involve non-REM (rapid eye movement) and REM sleep.

The former allows the brain to “prune” certain memories and neural pathways that aren’t important. There’s a “file transfer” that happens as some short-term memories are made long-term.

The latter is also critical: it helps you integrate your day’s events and thoughts into your past. He asserts that REM sleep is the engine for creativity, self-awareness and personal growth. There’s something about the active-dreaming state that seems to re-balance your brain. Walker describes it as nightly therapy.

That catch is this: the latter sleep cycles have more REM sleep. So, fewer hours sleep mean disproportionately less of the REM cycle or unbalanced sleep. Moreover, if you drink coffee and alcohol, Walker shows how it really affects your sleep. In fact, the #1 disrupter of REM sleep is that end-of-the-day cocktail or nightcap.

He also writes about how sleeping pills help you get to sleep but they don’t help you get to the deep-sleep states that our minds and bodies desperately need.

It’s a great book. I learned a lot from reading it. So, now when I get up, I am forcing myself to stay in bed to hit a good eight hours. I’ve had some bizarre dreams but for some reason that is what’s supposed to happen.

REM sleep for the win….

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