Importance of Sleep
| “Your body needs to be able to support your brain, and your energy level needs to be able to support your ambition. High quality sleep helps you get exactly that.”
Too much to do? When you feel overwhelmed, you often ask yourself, “how can I fit it all in?” And if you are like most people, the answer will be to stay up a bit later or wake up a bit earlier to get more done.
“Sleep when I’m dead”-- right? Actually, we are all tempted to sacrifice sleep, but science is showing in more and more clear ways that it is a bad idea.
As part of the Ivy League Challenge, our students commit to getting 9-hours of sleep each night. Want to know why?
- What separates high-performers from average-performers
- The importance of sleep and why it is a secret key to success
- How sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on your body
- Why you as a student should be getting enough hours of sleep each night
- How to design your days for optimal performance
And so much more.
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Okay, so if you would have talked to me when I was younger, I would have told you I didn't have time to sleep, right? Too much to do, too little time. And when push comes to shove, sleep is the easiest place to find an extra hour to study or to finish homework. So trust me, I get it.
And yet, I insist that every student who accepts the Ivy League Challenge and enrolls in the course with me agrees at the beginning of class that your body needs to be able to support your brain and your energy level needs to be able to support your ambitions. And in order for you to put yourself in a position to be able to learn what you need to right, to support your brain and to support your ambitions appropriately, you need to be healthy. And so every student accepts the Ivy League Health Challenge as part of the Ivy League Challenge.
I know the idea of getting enough sleep sounds like common sense. And guess what? Common sense is not common practice. If you've ever participated in our Ivy League elite camp, you have heard this many times, so many times.
But for those who are just listening in, think about it. Common sense is not common practice. But often it is doing those little common sense things that separates the highest performers from the average performers, especially over the long run.
So among the seven or so other commitments on the Health Challenge, people in the course commit to getting 9 hours of sleep each night. Remember, the Health Challenge is about getting your body and energy level to the point that it will support you in performing at that higher level, right? So you can live up to your highest ambitions. Well, today in class, we followed up on sleep and discovered that a few students were having a hard time with getting to that 9 hours.
And I admit it's pretty difficult. So I wanted to take some time to explain just how important sleep is and why it is the secret key to success. It's amazing.
First of all, researchers at UCLA have realized through a pretty impressive study that starving the body of sleep robs neurons of the ability to function properly. And in fact, this gives us the kinds of cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us that you might find with people who are drunk. Okay, so if you are chronically sleep deprived, your brain is probably functioning much of the time.
Not all of the time. There are times when you're a little more clear, but much of the time, much of that time when you are trying to get an edge, and you put off sleep through caffeine and other drugs to try to keep yourself awake and keep yourself stimulated. When you are sleep deprived, your cognitive function drops so low that it's as if you are drunk, you've drinking too much alcohol, okay? So clearly, we do not want to be in that camp.
We do not want to be among the people who are chronically sleep deprived. Your brain doesn't function well. You can't do the heavy thinking.
You're not going to be quick. You're not going to be alert. You're not going to make good decisions.
I mean, it's a terrible state to be in. So clearly, we do not want to be chronically sleep deprived. And if that's where you're at, if you are spending long hours at night studying, trying to catch up, trying to do well in school, that is absolutely counterproductive.
And my suggestion is that you use the discussions that we've had in this podcast and at our camp to learn how to manage your time and manage your energy more appropriately. As you manage your time and manage your energy, both of those things together, you're going to be far, far, far more effective. And you'll find that top performers can get more studying, more effective studying done in one afternoon than average performers can do in a week, especially if those average performers are trying to stay up late and get their studying done rather than sleeping.
But let's talk about why we should move from average. Clearly, we do not want to be sleep deprived and have cognitive function of a drunk person. But why should we move from average amount of sleep up to optimal sleep? Why in the Ivy League challenge do we encourage all of our students to get 9 hours of sleep? Well, for your age group, if you're a high school student, that's optimal sleep.
And so you should be to the point where you wake up feeling refreshed in the morning and you wake up without an alarm. If that's where you're at and it's less than 9 hours, then fine, you're doing just great. But for most people in high school and junior high, that's going to be around 9 hours of sleep.
So let's talk about why. First of all, you need to understand that the brain consumes, on average, just the average body. About 20% of your calories are going to be consumed in the brain.
Now, if you're doing a lot of heavy thinking, right, deep thinking, problem solving, critical thinking, if you are doing a lot of that, you're probably spending much more than just 20% of your total calories in the brain. I told my students in class today about when I was studying Chinese medicine in a medical school in China. I was in Beijing, at the Beijing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and I studied in Mandarin along with Chinese classmates and Chinese teachers.
And all of our textbooks were in mandarin. All of our tests, our examinations, my essays that I needed to write, everything was in Chinese, and my level of Chinese was good, but not nearly the level of my classmates or my teachers. And so I was studying I'm not joking or exaggerating 14 hours a day or more.
And all I did was sleep and walk the half block to my university and study all day. I was either in class or studying, and I was shocked that I was so immobile, and yet I was constantly so hungry. I didn't realize at that time how much our brain uses up calories and we use so much energy.
So we talked about not just my experience, but we also talked about Dr. Raphael Paleo, professor at Stanford University and a doctor at the center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. And he talks about the implications of this.
20% of your calories being consumed 20% or more of your calories being consumed in the brain. So think about the glia, okay? These are the support cells for your neurons, and your neurons are these electrical systems. And as electricity bounces back and forth across the brain, when thinking is happening, there's a lot of waste that is produced.
20% of your calories produces some waste, a lot of waste. And at nighttime, when you finally slip into deep sleep, the glia, these support cells for the neurons, where all that firing is happening, where all the thinking is happening, the glia. According to Dr.
Paleo, the glia switch positions during sleep and allow cerebral spinal fluid to flow about ten times faster throughout the brain. And what happens when that fluid is entering the brain and coming back out of the brain? Because these glia cells have switched positions, allows for this fluid to come in and out. It's like a dishwasher.
It's taking out all of these waste products from the thinking work that the brain did during the day, all right? And it doesn't just stop there, right? Your sleep also allows for restoration of kidneys and the spleen and muscles as well. Think about it this way. How do you grow stronger muscles? And a lot of people talk about exercise and lifting weights.
That's how you grow stronger muscles. Well, that's not really true, is it? You need exercise combined with sleep, because the weight lifting tears the muscles. It tears the muscle fibers, just micro tears.
And then when you sleep, your body regenerates those muscles, and they come back stronger. So generating stronger muscles, creating a stronger body, requires exercise and sleep in combination. Well, guess what? The brain is part of the body.
And if you want to strengthen your brain, you need the same thing. You exercise your brain by being a high performer, doing difficult thinking, right? The heavy lifting within the brain, the heavy thinking, the deep thinking, the problem solving, the critical thinking, making connections, and then you get enough sleep, because when you get sufficient sleep. It allows those glia cells to readjust their positions.
It lets the cerebral spinal fluid into the brain, cleaning out all the toxins and putting you back in a position the next day to reinforce those neurons, those neural pathways that you made and the learning that takes place. So the best learners, the best students in the world, are getting enough sleep. If you want to be performing at the highest levels, then you should get to the point where you can wake up feeling ready for the day, feeling refreshed, because that means the brain has had enough time to clean everything out.
And then the next day, your brain can use another 25% of your calories to think and make connections and do hard work that it has to do. Okay, so I just want to emphasize, I know it's not easy to get enough sleep when you need 9 hours of sleep. Man, that's not easy.
I know. Especially when you've got camps and you've got tests and you've got things to do. I get it.
I understand that. And sometimes you're not going to get your 9 hours. But for most of you, most of the time, the best use of an extra hour of time is not studying for an extra hour.
It's moving from not enough sleep to getting that extra hour and having closer to enough sleep or optimal sleep. All right, so I want you to shift your mindset from I don't have time to sleep. I'll sleep when I'm dead.
Right? A lot of people have that mindset, especially when you're in high school. And I get it. I understand the temptation.
But I want you to switch your mindset. Switch it to this idea of what's the best use of my time? If I can be more productive tomorrow for an entire day by getting an extra hour of sleep now or tonight, then that's a better use of my time. And I'm choosing to strive for optimal performance way up here where your mind is fresh and ready to go and make connections and study and focus.
So what do I want you to do? If you're in the Ivy League challenge, do your best to live up to that and get your 9 hours of sleep. If you're not, also step up your performance by sleeping a little bit more. It sounds crazy.
It sounds like too high of a cost to give up, to give up your study time or to give up your other activities in exchange for sleep. But moving from sleep deprivation to optimal sleep is the most important thing you can do if you want to be at the top 1% of all students in test performance and academic performance. Then when you wake up, naturally refreshed in the morning.
Then when your feet hit the floor, stop and breathe. Take ten deep breaths and think about how grateful you are for the day that's coming, how grateful you are for the sleep that you just got. Start your day with gratitude and start queuing your mind to look for and to observe things to be grateful for throughout the day.
You're going to find a lot more to be grateful for when you're looking for it. And then, as you are studying during the day, don't push yourself beyond 50 minutes at a time. You only need to stop for two or three minutes like we've talked about in class.
You don't need to take a long time, stop, stand up, stretch, do some jumping jacks or some push ups, do something to get blood flowing in the body, and stop and just think about how great you're doing, how focused you are, and then refocus for the next 50 minutes. And if you spend your day this way, then you won't collapse after 4 hours of studying and you're totally worthless the rest of the day. Instead, get enough sleep at night, wake up with gratitude, set your day correctly, set your cues for your day correctly, and then as you're studying, as you're getting your work done, stop every 50 minutes, just set an alarm on your phone.
Stop every 50 minutes, stand up, stretch, breathe, feel gratitude again, and then get back to work. Refocused for another 50 minutes. You'll find that you don't crash after three or 4 hours straight of studying.
Instead, you can go 14 hours, 15, 16 hours, you can study all day long if you need to, and then get enough sleep. And you can do it again the next day and the next day. And of course, you're not going to do this your whole life, that would be a miserable life.
But during those times when you really need to prepare for important exams or you really need to get through a lot of materials and be more productive than 99% of humanity, during those times, it is critical to get your sleep, get your breathing and your gratitude in the morning and take two or three minutes every 50 minutes. Allow your body to recover and you'll be able to perform throughout the day. Thanks for listening, and go out and get some more sleep, right? Let me know how you feel as you integrate these really simple common sense strategies that are definitely not common practice.
It can change your life. Come back and report. I'd love to hear how this works for you.
Get enough sleep, get gratitude in the morning, and take those recovery breaks every 50 minutes.