Thursday, March 23, 2023
Mitochondrial Health Optimal Health

#47 – Matthew Walker, Ph.D., on sleep – Part I of III: Dangers of poor sleep, Alzheimer’s risk, mental health, memory consolidation, and more

In part 1 of this 3 part series, Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience at UC Berkeley and expert on sleep, describes the different stages, and cycles, of sleep, including what he calls the 4 pillars of sleep, and how they contribute to memory consolidation and numerous important pathways to mental health. We also get into the dangers of chronic sleep deprivation, such as the development of dementia, and the more acute dangers of sleep deprivation like fatal car crashes which are most often caused by drowsy driving. We also discuss the different and important roles of REM vs. non-REM sleep, and the impact that bad sleep habits can have specifically on those sleep stages.


We discuss:

  • Matthew’s background and interest in sleep [5:00];
  • Sleep and Alzheimer’s disease, and the 4 pillars of sleep [11:15];
  • Stages of sleep, sleep cycles, and brainwaves [40:15];
  • Memory and sleep, and the risk of insufficient REM sleep [54:45];
  • Evolutionary reasons to sleep [1:01:00];
  • The early riser vs. the night owl, and tips for overcoming jet lag [1:09:15];
  • Is there one type or stage of sleep that is most important? [1:16:30];
  • The dangers of drowsy driving [1:25:45];
  • The timeliness of Matthew’s book, and how the conversation of sleep has changed over the past several years [1:34:15]; and
  • More.

Matthew’s background and interest in sleep [5:00]

  • Started med school in UK at age 18 but professor told him he was a scientist, not doctor (focused on questions, not answers)
  • Instead, he got undergrad in neuroscience at University of Nottingham
  • Then got Ph.D. at Newcastle University and his research was funded by the Medical Research Council in London
  • Went to Harvard for faculty position in psychiatry, there for 7 years – did not like winter or combative/competitive environment at Harvard
  • Came to Berkeley, has been there since

How did he develop his passion for sleep science?

  • Always interested in states of consciousness, anesthesia, hypnotism, brain switching between mental states
  • Sleep is a key example: state that happens to almost every living creature every 24 hours
  • Sleep accounts for ~1/3 of our lives – we understand eating, drinking, and mating, but not sleep
  • “We sleep to cure sleepiness” is not an answer, we can’t seem to unravel the mystery
  • Brilliant minds haven’t yet cracked it, so Matthew thought the topic would sustain a whole career

“So it was, for me, this perfect collision of a fascination in an innate biological problem, and universal behavior conserved across evolution, together with the fact that we did it for a third of our lives. Plus the fact that science had not been able to crack this nut, it was one of the last great remaining scientific mysteries.”

Sleep and Alzheimer’s disease, and the 4 pillars of sleep [11:15]

  • Walker was studying the brainwave patterns in people with dementia but not getting anywhere
  • Noticed that different pathologies hit sleep centers, others spared until late in process
  • Needed to measure patients while sleeping, not aware: then results took off

Could sleep disruption be a biomarker of dementia, or even an underlying cause? … [end of show notes preview]

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Matthew Walker Ph.D.

Dr. Walker earned his degree in neuroscience from Nottingham University, UK, and his PhD in neurophysiology from the Medical Research Council, London, UK. He subsequently became a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, USA. Currently, he is Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, USA. He is also the founder and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science.

Dr. Walker’s research examines the impact of sleep on human health and disease. He has received numerous funding awards from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, and is a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Walker is the author of the International Bestseller, Why We Sleep. It has a singular goal: to reunite humanity with sleep.

In addition, Dr. Walker is an internationally recognized speaker, a successful entrepreneur, and a Sleep Scientist for Google.


Twitter: @sleepdiplomat


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