Sleep: The Zombie Vaccine

by Cassie Byard Women’s Director at Veritas Life Adventures(This is part 2 of 2 blogs. Check out part 1 here.)(Inspired by Dr. James Maas’ presentation on the “Science of Sleep”, 25 April 2015 SMU’s OneDay University lecture series- all statistics and strategies come from this lecture)

One of our Seekers, Erik Lavespere, became an Eagle Scout just last month. If you’re familiar with the scouting community at all, you know it takes years of dedication and hard work to achieve such an honor (bravo, Erik!). In fact, to be eligible for Eagle ranking, scouts must earn at least 21 merit badges. There is a broad spectrum of merit badge options –over 100– and they range everywhere from lifesaving to plumbing. But you know what is not featured on the honorable list of merit badges? Living on little sleep. There is no badge that proudly proclaims, “I survive on only 5 hours of sleep per night!” So why do some of us act like our lack of sleep is a badge of honor? It’s like bragging, “I have a stomach of steel. I can eat poison and not throw up!” But there’s just no way to get around the fact that poison is bad for you.

Why do so many of us fight the fact that we probably need more sleep than we’re getting? Or… maybe we're not fighting sleep. Maybe we're sleep fighting:

Okay, I’m guessing you don’t suffer from sleep fighting, but 75% of us do suffer from at least one of 89 different sleep disorders. That’s a whole lot of disorder keeping us from the proper quality and quantity of sleep, but it doesn’t have to be that way! We already went over the diagnosis and detrimental effects of sleep deprivation; now we’ll cover strategies that promote better sleep (aka: zombie vaccine). It takes dedication and discipline, but following these guides could just add several years to your life and life to your years, and you’ll probably notice a difference in your mood and functionality in just a week or two --even if you just add ONE more hour a night to your sleep bank!

According to Dr. James Maas, there are 3 golden rules of sleep hygiene, and a number of proven strategies to help you keep these golden rules.

1. Determine –AND MEET– your sleep requirement every night

Every person is different, and it may take some trial and error to find your sweet spot, but adults usually need between 7.5-9.5 hours each night. Teenagers? NO LESS THAN 8, and probably closer to 10! I know you might be thinking, “When I sleep more I feel more tired! I only need 5 or 6 hours.” But research shows you’re probably wrong. If you’re more tired when you sleep more, the reason may not be that you’re getting too much sleep,* but that you’re suffering from a low quality of sleep, or that you need to implement a better sleep routine, which brings us to rule #2:

2. Establish a regularbedtimeand wake time

Yes, that means going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. Once you get into a good routine, you’ll likely get tired at the same time every night, making this one rather easy to master. But getting into this routine isn’t always easy. You might need to start setting an alarm to go to bed! Yep, even on the weekends!

3. Get continuous sleep

This one is very dependent on your daytime habits. Increase the likelihood of uninterrupted sleep by adhering to these limitations:

  • No caffeine (including chocolate!) after2 p.m.
  • No heavy cardio within 1 hour of bedtime
  • No nicotine (just another on the long list of reasons to quit)
  • No alcohol within 3 hours of bedtime (or, at all, minors ;))

Keeping these sleep “laws” will help produce better sleep, but without some strategies, it’s difficult to keep ‘em! If you’re having issues creating a healthy sleep hygiene, refer back to these tips for fruitful snoozes:

1 Keep it dark –I mean no pilot lights, clock lights, phone lights, night lights, street lights… if you can eliminate all light from your sleeping room, do it!

2 Keep it quiet –in a world polluted with noise, this one can be tough. Consistent soft sound (fan or air purifier) can help drown out other noise.

3 Keep it cool –try somewhere between 65-70°

4 Keep your bed for sleeping only/eliminate blue light –make your bed the place your body recognizes as sleep space. That means no screens in bed! Have a TV in your room? Used to getting on Instagram before you turn out the lights? Texting pals until you fall asleep? These things are alerting your brain that it’s time to be awake. 95% of Americans use electronics within an hour of bedtime, and it’s confusing our bodies! Cut it out!

5 Relax! –Do some light yoga/stretches, take a hot bath, meditate, play some light classical music, read a book… Unwinding from the day’s stresses, releasing physical and emotional tension, even writing down worries and placing them in a box out of sight –these are excellent sleep producers!

6 Pay off your sleep debt with a power nap–sometimes you just need a mid-day snooze. Naps are a great way to get a jump during the day, but there are some catches.

  • Don’t sleep longer than 30 minutes! Set a timer for 20 minutes. Don’t feel pressure to fall asleep; even resting for 20 minutes can jumpstart your brain and body.
  • Keep the naps early: taking a nap after 3 or 4 p.m. might keep you up when you try to go to sleep at night

Yeah, I know, it’s a lot of information, but implementing these strategies is worth it in the long run. Even if you just work toward adding 1 extra hour to your sleep time each night, you will experience improved athletic and cognitive performance, increased creativity and problem solving abilities, stronger immunities toward sickness, greater energy and overall better mood. So get out there and start sleeping!


*Yes, oversleeping is also unhealthy, but it can be a sign your body is trying to compensate for not actually getting enough quality sleep. If strict adherence to these strategies does not improve your overall sleeping experience and decrease daytime sleepiness, you may need to visit a sleep clinic for help.