Speaker: Matt Walker

Sleeping Enough to Be Truly Awake

“The evidence is overwhelming, it is irrefutable.  Sleep is the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body health each and every day,” says Matt Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory.

Calling the global sleep-loss epidemic “the greatest public health challenge we now face in the 21st century,” Walker examines the impact of sleep on human brain function in healthy and clinical populations.  Through his work at UC Berkeley, he has been at the forefront of sleep research. He has linked sleep deprivation to psychiatric disorders, obesity, risky behavior, post-traumatic stress disorder, learning, and memory loss in old age.  He found a link between poor sleep and the build-up of a protein linked to Alzheimer’s, a major breakthrough in our understanding of the disease that shows just how critical good sleep is to all of us.

And recently, his research demonstrates that a poor night’s sleep may also hinder one’s ability to accurately read the emotions of others – an impairment that may have wide-ranging consequences for our social interactions.  “Few things come unhinged as quickly and profoundly as our emotional stability…when we are not getting enough sleep,” he told the Wall Street Journal.  Fatigue-induced misinterpretations and miscues can wreak havoc on relationships.

“If you would ask me what the future of sleep is, ironically I would tell you it is about a return to the past,” he says.  “Because in 1910 the average American adult was hitting the sweet spot of 8 and 1/4 hours of sleep a night.  Now that number is closer to 6 and 3/4 hours.  The decimation of sleep throughout industrialized nations is having a catastrophic impact on our health and our wellness.  It is a silent sleep loss epidemic.  I believe it is now time for us to reclaim our right to a full night of sleep, without embarrassment, without the stigma of laziness.  And in doing so, we may remember what it feels like to truly be awake during the day.”

Dr. Walker earned his PhD in neurophysiology from the Medical Research Council in London and subsequently became Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. He is the recipient of funding awards from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. He has been featured on CBS 60 Minutes and the National Geographic documentary, Sleepless in America, among other programs.

Dr. Walker is the recipient of numerous funding awards from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, and a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences. To date, he has published over eighty research studies describing the critical importance of sleep for learning, memory, creativity, emotional regulation and cardiovascular health.

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