June 17, 2019


#58 – AMA with sleep expert, Matthew Walker, Ph.D.: Strategies for sleeping more, sleeping better, and avoiding things that are disrupting sleep

"[Sleep] is like that master volume button on a mixing deck that you see in the studio. You can manipulate each one of those dials, or you can go to the far left and just move that one dial...and all of the other levers seem to move with it." — Matthew Walker

Read Time 34 minutes

In the first three parts of our series with sleep expert Matthew Walker, Matt revealed the many reasons why we need sleep as well as the many short- and long-term dangers of not sleeping enough. In this special AMA episode, Matt comes back to provide a dissertation on listener’s questions about HOW to sleep. He answers questions from subscribers that largely focus on the practical and tactical ways we can improve our sleep in terms of duration, quality, consistency, and avoidance of the common things that are standing in the way the best sleep possible.

If you’re a subscriber, you can now listen to this full episode on your private RSS feed. If you are not a subscriber, you can learn more about the subscriber benefits here.

AMA Sneak Peak:

We discuss:

  • Matthew’s TED Talk, and his favorite public speakers [3:40];
  • How good are the current sleep trackers like Oura, Fitbit, etc.? [6:45];
  • Is it bad to eat food too close to bedtime? [11:40];
  • How does exercise impact sleep? [13:15];
  • How is appetite affected by our sleep quality? [17:30];
  • Anxiety, cortisol, and weight gain: An awful feedback loop of sleep deprivation [19:30];
  • How to optimize your wind down routine: lights, temperature, & relaxation [22:10];
  • How alcohol disrupts sleep (and contributes to Alzheimer’s disease) [42:00];
  • Sleep’s impact on sex hormones, and romantic relationships [46:00];
  • Performance, accuracy, and minimizing the damage of shift work [51:30];
  • Bed partners: How to sleep in separate beds and retain a good relationship [55:30];
  • Can we use sound machines and electrical stimulation to improve sleep? [57:40];
  • Will we ever be able to “supercharge” our sleep stages using technology? [1:03:30];
  • Why sleep is the best insurance policy for lifespan and healthspan [1:07:45];
  • Melatonin: How (and how not) to use it for sleep improvement [1:15:00];
  • The dangers of sleeping pills, useful alternatives, and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia [1:24:30];
  • Can CBD and THC be used for sleep? [1:39:30];
  • Why haven’t we been able to develop a really effective sleeping aid? [1:46:40];
  • Can you get too much sleep? [1:51:50];
  • What to do (and not do) immediately following a terrible night of sleep? [2:04:15];
  • Why a consistent wake up time is king [2:10:30];
  • Does poor sleep speed up the aging process? [2:12:00];
  • Can different people be more (or less) resilient to sleep deprivation? [2:18:50];
  • Finding your optimal sleep schedule and determining your sleep chronotype [2:23:45];
  • Defining sleep efficiency and how to improve it [2:29:25];
  • Correcting insomnia: A counterintuitive approach [2:31:45];
  • How can parents improve the sleep of their kids? [2:37:30]; and
  • More.

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Matthew’s TED Talk, and his favorite public speakers [3:40]

Matthew recently gave a TED Talk: Sleep is your superpower

Matthew’s favorite speakers:

“They transcend being an exquisite public speaker into being someone who is just so compelling because they add to this sprinkle layer on top called wonderment.”

How good are the current sleep trackers like Oura, Fitbit, etc.? [6:45]

What can the common sleep trackers tell us about sleep?

  • Best at: Estimating total duration of sleep (Two-class model)
  • Pretty good at: Determining where you’re in awake, non-REM, and REM (Three-class model)
  • Least accurate when: Estimating your time split between 4 stages… awake, light non-REM, deep non-REM, and REM (Four-class model)

⇒ Matthew says don’t fret: “I wouldn’t get too nervous about some of your sort of deep sleep versus light sleep numbers. Some of them could be accurate within an individual, but for others it can be more tricky because of their physiology that’s not giving the right signals for class accuracy.”

Trend lines and relative changes are more important

  • Once you establish some kind of baseline and you see a deviation from that baseline, it’s more than likely that that deviation is a real deviation rather than a problem of the technology because the technology, even though it’s errorful is consistently errorful night after night after night
  • So any variance from your baseline is where you want to focus more of your attention
  • Trendlines: Matthew advises to pay most attention to your weekly trend lines when using a sleep tracker

The Oura ring

⇒ More regarding heart rate

Peter: “When your resting heart rate is up seven beats per minute and your heart rate variability is down 20%… those are bad things.”

What can cause these heart rate issues?

  • For Peter at least… it is typically:
    • The room was boiling hot
    • Ate a monster meal 10 minutes before bed
    • He had two alcoholic drinks or more
    • Jet lag

Is it bad to eat food too close to bedtime? [11:40]

{end of show notes preview…}

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Matthew Walker Ph.D.

Dr. Walker earned his degree in neuroscience from Nottingham University, UK, and his PhD in neurophysiology from the Medical Research Council, London, UK. He subsequently became a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, USA. Currently, he is Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, USA. He is also the founder and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science.

Dr. Walker’s research examines the impact of sleep on human health and disease. He has received numerous funding awards from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, and is a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Walker is the author of the International Bestseller, Why We Sleep. It has a singular goal: to reunite humanity with sleep.

In addition, Dr. Walker is an internationally recognized speaker, a successful entrepreneur, and a Sleep Scientist for Google.


Twitter: @sleepdiplomat

Center for Human Sleep Science: https://www.humansleepscience.com/

Matthew’s publications: https://www.humansleepscience.com/p-u-b-l-i-c-a-t-i-o-n-s

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this blog or materials linked from this blog is at the user's own risk. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have, and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions.


  1. A great deal of meticulous work is entailed in each podcast. Thanks fir sharing.

  2. Just as ‘wow’ as all other Matthew Walkers talks on The Drive! Thank you both Peter and Matt for making the AMA happen, it certainly answered some questions I had. I feel the dawn of a global sleep revolution…bring it on!

  3. Is there any data on the accuracy of the Huawei Honor Band 4 sleep monitoring?
    It is a $30.00 solution that gives light sleep, REM sleep and deep sleep. It would be nice to know what the ideal % of each type should be.

  4. I’ve listened to all of Matt’s podcasts yet have never heard the question asked about whether or not medicated sleep is better than no sleep. The fact that imsomniacs are doomed to poor health, longevity and healthspan is obvious. But isn’t taking a bit of a sleep aid (not Ambien, but anti-histamines or mild benzos) better than lying awake stressing in the long run? Some folks just are a dolphin chronotype meaning, we don’t sleep much or well if we do. I’ve got to think that despite their not replicating natural sleep, they’re better than nothing. Any port in a storm! CBT – I was not useful for me.

  5. Matt is awesome. I did have one point of confusion:

    In his book and on the podcast, he minions that sleep cannot be replenished after consecutive nights of reduced sleep.

    Yet, he also notes that cardiovascular events are reduced annually, on the day the clocks are moved ahead, giving folks an extra hour of sleep.

    Does the above imply a potentially positive correlation to “catch up sleep?”


  6. In all the conversations about sleep, I was hoping there would be a discussionon sleep eating. I would love to get a comment from Walker on the topic. The only thing that I can find that will stop it is locking up all of the food every night. It’s a lot of work and takes a committment from my family. Yes, I’ve been diagnosed and it’s real. My wife really didn’t believe I had it until the diagnosis and living withit for 23 years. I workout constantly but can’t get as thin ask I like bc this condition constantly keeps me about 10lbs over my ideal weight. Any direction for an expert would be appreciated.

  7. I would just want to caution Peter that his gratuitous dig at Orrin Hatch (for giving us the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994) should be re-thought. While it is certainly true that it has left us with an unregulated industry where you have to be careful about the quality of what you buy, and where manufacturers can make almost any sort of claim as long as it’s not that their product treats a disease . . . at least we *have* a supplement industry.

    The alternative was not then, and is not now, a lightly regulated but still vibrant industry where products are innovated and useful stuff rises to the top. The alternative would be to have *all* supplements completely suppressed until they had shown drug-like efficacy for specific conditions . . . basically, they would be drugs. For anything to ever get through the testing that would be needed, there would have to be patent protection, and drug-like costs associated with those patents. 95% of what I take (and derive benefit from) would not be on the market, and the 5% that might make it through (Vitamin D, maybe?) would cost a fortune. We would not have the Carlson’s or Nordic Natural fish oil that Peter mentions so favorably . . . we would have only Vescapa, at $15/pill.

    There wasn’t much I agreed on with Orrin Hatch . . . but this was maybe the single best thing he did in his many years in Congress.

    I’d urge people who don’t like the unregulated supplement industry to consider the alternative before denigrating it.

  8. Peter,

    Can you and your team research or ask Matt the merit of hammock sleeping as an optimal sleep set-up?

    Kind Regards,


    PS: Long-time fan, thanks for your insights.

  9. Peter, new subscriber, and I have some experience with the MacArthur nomination process if you are interested. Just google me at UCLA Law School and reach out.

    This was a great discussion and very comprehensive BUT it gave little attention to early morning awakening, as opposed to sleep onset insomnia. I would be interested in hearing from Matthew on techniques for improving that beyond CBTI and also the utility of low dose ambien or similar given that the usual suggestions (including his) dont apply well to early morning insomniacs. Recognizing these pills are very bad, it is important to balance that against the very bad effects of lack of sleep (which you frankly make even scarier than I realized in this and the other podcast sessions).

  10. While supplements are unregulated, there is a company that does third-party testing of many of them (including Melatonin):



    Allegedly the company was started by a few people with backgrounds in chemical analysis who became concerned about the quality of the supplements that they and their families were taking. I have no idea how good, bad, or indifferent they are in practice / on a technical level, but it’s a cool concept.

  11. How about trazodone – doesn’t it have a different mechanism for sleep? Isn’t it supposed to not interfere with REM sleep?
    How about the issue of migrane and sleep especially oversleeping?
    Also are meds such as zoloft helpful for the issue of obsessing on problems interfering with sleep?

  12. Dear Peter, I wonder:
    if I get enough SWS and REM do I really need the light sleep or can I just wake up?

    Light sleep (non deep, non REM) has some basic advantages that seem similar in e.g. cardio sports in the recovery bandwith. So is it better once reached a specific amount of SWS and REM to get up for a jogg instead of reaching the advocated 8h?

  13. Nitpicking here, but I believe Matthew referred to CBD as being “anxiogenic” (anxiety-inducing), and what he really meant was likely “anxiolytic”(anxiety-reducing)…

  14. In the Wind Down routine section, the notes state the “Studies about mood show …a person in a negative mood state takes longer to fall asleep, and in a positive mood set falls asleep faster.”

    It cites as evidence this study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4185310/

    The study does not seem to say that, though?
    “On the sad mood induction night, participants in both groups had shorter SOL…These results raise the possibility that regulation of positive stimuli may be a contributor to difficulties with SOL.”

    So sad mood states seemed to have caused them to fall asleep faster, not slower?

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