Sleep lecture opens eyes to benefits of nightly rest

Hundreds of wide-awake guests filled the Nourse Theatre Wednesday night to find out why getting proper sleep is so important.

The California Academy of Sciences hosted “The Science of Sleep,” the fifth of a six-part lecture series featuring UC Berkeley neuroscience and psychology professor Matt Walker.

Using combinations of humor and irony, Walker delved deep into the intricacies of sleep that affect people and even other creatures in their daily lives.

During times of college students stressing through finals, and sports fanatics cheering their teams through the playoffs, it becomes easy to make sleep a lower priority than it should be.

Walker said sleep is a trait that has lived through all cycles of evolution from all species throughout history, and that getting proper sleep is as important now as ever:

“One important thing to note is that sleep appeared to evolve, and it heroically fought its way through every step of evolution we’ve had. … It’s proven to be fundamentally important on a basic biological level.”

Walker reminded the audience how easy it is to get caught up in bad sleeping habits that ultimately impact your quality of life in negative ways.

Walker cited technology as a modern-day obstacle that hinders the average person from getting the correct sleep they need to be functional and healthy in the ensuing day.

Walker said that it is common for people to procrastinate on sleeping by checking emails and social media sites, adding that the bright lights from technology in rooms can trick the mind into thinking it’s daytime, causing us to miss out on crucial amounts of sleep.

About 30 minutes of sleep can make a big difference in the quality of our rest, Walker said. He cited a study in Edina, Minn., where after a local high school changed its start time from 7:45 to 8:30 a.m., the school’s top SAT testers averaged around 400 points higher than before.

In addition, Walker said car accidents, heart attacks and anxiety rose drops significantly for those who average an extra hour of sleep per night.

For Barbara Contini, a frequenter of the California Academy of Science’s lecture series, said the results of Walker’s findings were what intrigued her the most:

“I was shocked that the impact of minimal changes in your sleep cycle had such drastic effects on your health. … The results were staggering.”

Pat McDonnell, another recurring California Academy of Sciences lecture attendee, said he could see himself applying some of his newfound knowledge:

“I was impressed with how pervasive and in-depth the talk was … You really have to respect how much sleep affects us. It was excellent.”

Walker said a healthy amount of nightly rest is from eight to eight-and-a-half hours of sleep each night, and that taking naps during the day can also help stimulate your creativity and keep you fresh throughout the day.

For those who struggle with falling asleep, Walker said placebos and other natural solutions are the best ways to cure sleeping problems, as it helps convince the mind to naturally set itself to sleep.

Walker strongly advised against alcohol and sedative drugs, as it gives you artificial sleep that doesn’t refresh your body when you wake up:

“Sadly people use alcohol to try and fall asleep, when mistakenly it is a sedative … Alcohol is one of the best suppressors that we know of REM sleep. Alcohol will block your sleep very efficiently, and worse, alcohol will fragment your sleep throughout the night.”

The California Academy of Sciences will hold its final lecture of the season June 30 at the Nourse with Nora Volkow, who will discuss her research into drug addiction and abuse.