The following is the full transcript of Clinical Psychologist Dr. Vyga Kaufmann’s TEDx Talk: Understanding “How do I Sleep Better” at TEDxBoulder conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Understanding How do I Sleep Better by Dr. Vyga Kaufmann at TEDxBoulder
The early part of my career as a clinical psychologist was spent in addiction research and treatment, and now I treat sleep. So when I reflect on my path, I feel as if I can legitimately say that I went from helping people become conscious to helping people become unconscious.
I love sleep treatment. I think that sleep is so fascinating and it’s exquisitely complex. For people navigating that sleep treatment world, though, trying to figure out what to do can be very daunting.
I was even surprised to find out that some of the most effective treatments for insomnia were over 20 years old. When I shared this with one of my clients, his response caught me off-guard. He said, “Why is it then that you are my last stop when you should have been my first stop?” The night of sleeplessness here and there is actually normal. Losing sleep over a broken heart, normal. Losing sleep because your mind pops awake with one more idea to add it to your big presentation tomorrow, normal.
But hopefully, we also know how great it feels to have a really good night of sleep. Because I know how great it is to have a good night of sleep, I always am struck with wonder that sleep only recently has joined the conversation when you talk about health and overall longevity. People even sometimes ask me, “Isn’t there some way I can hack into my sleep, to somehow squeeze it down significantly, so that I can just maybe go straight into, you know, the good stages, where the benefits are?” Fair enough. Good question. The answer is no.
So it turns out a great deal of housekeeping is taking place while we sleep. And sleep is much more complex than just a lack of consciousness. When you get into bed, and you pull up the covers, and you rest your head on the pillow, with your exhale of all the concerns for the day, as you close your eyes, sleep begins to unfold in a series of stages that increase in depths as the night goes on. And all those stages work together to orchestrate all the processes that are needed to derive all the benefits of sleep. For example, we know that sleep is incredibly important for immune functioning. Get a lot of consistent sleep, you’re more likely to resist infection. If you get sleep while you’re sick, you’re more likely to recover.
Recent evidence suggests that your brain even has its own dedicated waste removal system, the glymphatic system, and this is the system that works primarily while we’re asleep to remove the gunk out of our brains that seem to contribute to diseases such as dementia.
So really there is no consensus about why we sleep. We don’t really know why we spend the third of our life doing it. But one thing that I can tell you is just as the three trimesters of pregnancy can’t be whittled down to a convenient three months, it seems like sleep and the benefits of it also have an optimum period of gestation, which appears to be about 7 to 9 hours.