Neuroscientist: Sleep a ‘Biological Necessity’

Matthew Walker Ph.D., a world-renowned sleep expert, visited Brunswick to speak with students, faculty, and parents about the imperative of sleep and its foundational role in education and all of human health and wellness.

Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, spoke to students in a morning keynote entitled Sleep is Your Superpower. He sat with parents in the evening for a “fireside chat” in Baker Theater.

Walker told students that sleep plays a critical role in all learning and has a demonstrable effect on test scores.

Sleep, he said, is the brain’s method of “hard saving” information, while it also helps lay the groundwork for new learning by preparing the brain for a new day.

“The data is very clear. When sleep is abundant, minds flourish. When it’s not, they don’t.

“There is simply no aspect of your wellness that can retreat at the sign of sleep deprivation and get away unscathed,” he said. “It’s almost like a broken water pipe in your home. Sleep loss will leak down into every nook and cranny of your physiology.”

Walker said there are a number of ways to improve sleep and offered two specific tips for students. The first is regularity; he told students to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, no matter whether it’s a weekday or a weekend. The second piece of advice he offered is to “keep it cool.” Brain and body temperature must drop in order to fall and stay asleep, he said, so the goal is to aim for a bedroom temperature of about 65 degrees.

Walker covered similar ground when he spoke to parents in an informal conversation moderated by Health & Wellness Director Marcie Molloy, M.D., in the evening, but he also further elucidated the benefits of the particular stage of sleep known as REM, or dream sleep, in both education and health.

“Dream sleep is essentially mental health,” he said. “It’s emotional first aid. REM sleep takes the sharp edges off painful experiences.”

In classroom learning, REM sleep is the critical difference between regurgitating facts and deep understanding of material.
“REM sleep is the difference between knowledge, which happens in the deep, non-REM sleep of ‘grabbing the facts,’ and wisdom, which is knowing what it all means when you put everything together.”

Walker is the author of the international best-seller Why We Sleep and founder and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley.

Walker’s visit served as the fourth and final installment of the inaugural year of the ’WICK Center Speaker Series, which brings leading thinkers to campus for daylong visits that focus on wellness, insight, courage, and kindness. 



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