Peter Attia: Sleep Is Just What the Doctor Ordered

Do you get enough sleep? If you don’t, what risks are you taking?

According to physician Peter Attia, sleep is something that you shouldn’t neglect if you want to extend the active and fulfilling part of your life. The earlier you start building a habit of quality sleep, the better chance you have of circumventing mental and physical decline.

Keep reading to understand why sufficient quality sleep is so important.

Peter Attia on Sleep

To improve your health and longevity, get sufficient sleep. According to Peter Attia, sleep gives your brain time to organize its memories. When you don’t get enough, you can experience short-term damage to memory and mental acuity.

(Shortform note: You can claim these short-term neurological benefits of sleep with a midday nap. Naps that last 30 minutes or more trigger the process of memory consolidation Attia mentions. Further, studies have found that napping can increase your alertness and cognitive performance for up to three hours after waking.)

Additionally, during sleep, your brain cleans away harmful proteins that accumulate between your neurons during the day. If you don’t give your brain time to do this, these proteins will accumulate and cause long-term damage—including neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

(Shortform note: A 2019 study sheds more light into what’s happening inside your brain during this protein-cleaning process that wards off neurodegeneration. The slow electric brain waves that occur during deep sleep reduce blood flow to the brain. This blood movement draws more cerebrospinal fluid up into the skull, where it can wash away harmful proteins. Because this interaction is controlled by brain waves, the cerebrospinal fluid can wash proteins out of the brain repeatedly in a wave-like cycle.)

Furthermore, multiple studies suggest that poor sleep disrupts your metabolism, making metabolic dysfunction and chronic disease much more likely. Although researchers aren’t totally sure why this is, Attia theorizes that it’s because insufficient sleep puts your body into perpetual fight-or-flight stress. The stress hormone cortisol raises blood pressure and triggers the liver to release glucose into the blood. This can lead to insulin resistance and an increased risk of chronic disease.

(Shortform note: It’s likely that the stress response is only part of the reason why insufficient sleep causes metabolic dysfunction. In Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker affirms that sleep deprivation floods your system with the hormone cortisol, and he goes on to describe the other hormonal problems caused by lack of sleep: Your body increases production of the hormone ghrelin and reduces leptin, both of which cause you to feel hungrier. This, in addition to the reduced emotional control you have while sleep-deprived, often leads to overeating—which is one of the primary causes of metabolic dysfunction.)

Peter Attia: Sleep Is Just What the Doctor Ordered

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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