Sleep, learning, health and happiness

Blog Post No. 53

14th October 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching Blog:

Do you want to feel better tomorrow morning, at no cost? The amazing power of sleep can transform your life


This blog is a rave review of a book review I read, two weeks ago, in the Sunday Times Culture Magazine (October 1st 2017). It was written by James McConnachie.

He was reviewing ‘Why we sleep’- a book written by Matthew Walker, who is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Berkeley, California.  The book was published in September of this year.

Sleeping -baby

Vital facts about sleep

McConnachie has done a very clear and fluent analysis of this book, ‘Why we sleep’, and has picked out some fascinating facts about why sleep is so important, and how we could all benefit from being more aware of its importance. In this blog post, I will present some of these gems so you can have the latest findings on sleep and how it makes you feel better.  Of course, to gain the benefits, you would have to take on board the implications of the research findings. They really clarify, on the basis of sound research, the importance of sleep for our well-being.


A vital fact: We need a minimum of 8 hours sleep every night!

If you think you can get by on less than 8 hours sleep a night, then you are most likely wrong.  According to Matthew Walker:

“You have forgotten what it is like to function properly”.

Sleep-book-coverWalker estimates that 2 out of 5 people in the UK are not having the sleep that they need, and he points out the consequences of not having enough sleep, which you may not be aware of. I will now present some of those consequences.

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

Short sleepers eat an average of 300 calories extra per day, adding up to 10lb to 15lb of weight gain over a year! This is because people who don’t get enough sleep tend to eat more. (Their bodies produce more ghrelin, which is a hormone that makes you feel hungry. They also produce less leptin, which is the hormone that makes you feel full up). You also become vulnerable to some of those medical conditions which sleep protects us from.  What are those conditions?


Sleep protects us from:

According to Walker’s research, sleep protects us from:

# Influenza

# Infections

# Dementia

# Heart disease; and:

# Mental ill health. (Walker states that: “There is no major psychiatric condition in which sleep is [found to be] normal”.)

Adequate sleep also protects us from car crashes. (Drowsiness, resulting from sleep deprivation or insufficiency causes more road accidents than drugs and alcohol combined).

Walker also states that adults of 45 and over, who sleep fewer than 6 hours a night, are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke!

So what are the benefits of adequate sleep, apart from removing the risks listed above?

What having enough sleep gives you

The research results show that, adequate sleep will help you in the following ways:

# You will have more energy (and be more productive);

# You control your weight better;

# It makes you more creative;

# It makes you more emotionally intelligent and able to pick up vital, subtle, non-verbal and verbal cues from people in interpersonal communication; and:

# It makes you look younger!

Some ‘killer facts’ mentioned in the book

Matthew-WalkerIn addition to these benefits, Walker mentions two other important facts.  The first concerns sleep, and the other learning and memory (of particular interest to students).

Firstly, it has been discovered that a single night of inadequate sleep (of just 4 hours) destroys 70% of the ‘natural killer cells’ in the immune system!  Those killer cells are what protects us from various pathogenic invaders of our bodies.

Secondly, if you are a student trying to learn new information, Matthew Walker has some great advice for you:

On his ‘You Tube’ talk entitled ‘Why We Sleep’, he shows the power of sleep in relation to learning and memory:


What All-nighters do to your learning efficiency

As described in the video clip above, Walker did some research on sleep and learning.  One of the things he investigated was this: If we go to an all-night party (or cram for an exam all night), and have no sleep, would it affect our ability to learn the following day? Dr Walker wanted to test the hypothesis (a testable statement), that “Pulling an all-nighter is a good idea”, so he set up a research experiment:

Two groups of healthy young adults were split into a ‘Sleep’ group and a ‘Sleep Deprivation’ group. The ‘Sleep’ group were going to get a full eight hours’ sleep, and the ‘Deprivation’ group were going to keep awake all night, under supervision, with no caffeine or naps.

Then the following day, the members of each group were placed in an MRI scanner – (which can monitor their brain functioning) – and were asked to learn a whole list of new facts, as snapshots were taken of their brains’ activities. Following that, the participants were all tested to see how effective the learning had been.

When the learning efficiency of the two groups was compared, there was an amazing 40% difference in the ability of the brain to make new memories as between the two groups. So all-nighters have to pay a mental price tag in terms of almost halving their ability to learn!

If you are a student, or learning new material of any kind, then this has to be ‘a wakeup call’ for you (if you will pardon the paradoxical pun!).

Matthew Walker made the following statement in response to these findings, about the impact of sleep on our ability to learn new information:

“This should be frightening considering what we know in our education populations right now about what is happening to sleep. It would be the difference between ‘aceing’ an exam and failing it miserably”

He goes on to say:

It’s been recently discovered that you need sleep before learning, to prepare your brain, so it’s almost like a dry sponge, ready to soak up new information.

Sleep after learning is essential to hit the ‘SAVE’ button on those new memories so you don’t forget them”. 

He then also goes on to state that:

“Without sleep our memory circuits effectively become waterlogged and you can’t absorb information.”

So, to be clear, we need adequate sleep to prepare to soak up new information; and we need adequate sleep afterwards to consolidate the learning (in the form of memory traces in the brain).


This evidence about the importance of sleep has emerged over the last 20 years, and has massive implications for our health, and our ability to learn, to interact with others effectively, and to enjoy life.

Since I read the review by James McConnachie, I have been religiously making sure I get at least 8 hours’ sleep per night, and intend to get Matthew Walker’s book. I strongly recommend it, and also watching him talking on ‘You Tube.’

But please bear in mind: This blog has given you some of the latest information about sleep from an expert. I’ve just given you some declarative knowledge (which means that you’ve now got some information that can be retained or stored; or articulated or stated to another person). This has to be distinguished from what we call ‘procedural knowledge’.  That is to say, knowing how to tie shoe laces is not at all the same thing as being able to tie shoe laces.

If you want this information about sleep to improve your quality of life – your health and relationships, your learning and memorizing ability, and safety when driving – then you need to turn this information into procedural knowledge.

You need to actively change your sleep patterns, which are most likely well established habits!

You need to be able to stick to your commitment to change your sleep habits, and assertively alter them in the face of possible pressure from others. As Dr Phil said, “This is when the rubber hits the road”.

renata-taylor-byrne-lifestyle-coachIf you want support in doing this, that’s when coaching can be a great moral and practical support. So contact me if you want to take on board these findings and change your sleep patterns for the better.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,


Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division


Telephone: 01422 843 629







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