Charlotte needs more sleep

Charlotte needs more sleep

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

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The current Charlotte city council closed its time together with another lengthy meeting Monday night, but credit is due: It wasn’t nearly as long as many of their others during this very long term.

The big picture: Meanwhile, in Raleigh and at state capitals around the country each year, legislatures rush to pass important legislation in the wee hours.

  • On the final day of the Massachusetts legislative session this summer, for instance, lawmakers worked through the night and didn’t sign off until 10am the next day, all while debating issues such as, get this, mental health.

I’ve been thinking about sleep lately in general, and wondering whether leaders — or any of us, for that matter — can make the best choices on no rest.

Why it matters: The average American adult slept 7.9 hours a night in the 1940s. That has dropped to 6.8 hours a night, according to colleague Erica Pandey at Axios Finish Line.

Be smart: One of Charlotte’s most successful people, Red Ventures CEO Ric Elias, is a sleep evangelist now. He covered sleep extensively in a recent episode of his podcast, “3 Things (with Ric Elias).”

  • His guest was Matthew Walker, a professor, author and researcher who’s studied sleep and its effects on our well-being.
  • It’s a fascinating episode, lasting nearly 90 minutes, and Walker is a quote machine throughout.

What they’re saying: A few things I noted from their conversation:

It’s science: Sleep is the best medicine

Walker, who studies sleep at the cellular level, said, “From a biomedical perspective wakefulness is low level brain damage, and sleep is sanitary salvation.”

  • A National Institutes of Health study showed that people who get six hours of sleep or less during their 50s and 60s were 30% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia later than their peers getting seven hours or more.
  • The more time you’re awake, Walker said, “Toxic proteins that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease build up. Sleep washes them away.”

“Powering through” doesn’t make you tough

Walker cringes when he hears people brag about functioning on a lack of sleep.

  • “Sleep in general has an image problem in society. We stigmatize sleep with this mentality of being lazy. (It’s almost a) sleep machismo attitude.”
  • “Whoever the PR agent for sleep had been we should fire them because they’ve done a terrible job. Sleep needs rebranding. We need to have rebranded sleep and start to celebrate sleep where people are proud to tell you how much sleep they get.”

Making memories

Walker says that the brain is like a USB stick that fills up each day, and that sleep is when we transfer the files to a hard drive.

  • “Sleep has this dual function. Sleep the night before both prepares your brain the next day to acquire new information by clearing out the short term reservoir. But it also has the second benefit of storing the information that we learned yesterday because you’re now moving it to the long term hard drive within the brain so that you don’t forget.”
  • There’s “almost a 40% deficit in your ability to learn new memories when you haven’t had a night of sleep,” Walker says.

Pay for that bed

Walker says we have a long way to go in mattress and bed technology, but he says it’s worth spending more on a quality bed that helps you rest.

  • He joked that people who commute to work will spend two hours in a car a day and spend $40,000 on that vehicle, but we spend eight hours sleeping and bristle at spending $800 on it.

Easy on that late-night coffee and wine

Caffeine has a quarter-life of 12 hours, meaning that if you drink a full cup of coffee at noon, a quarter of that cup’s caffeine is still in your system at midnight.

  • Elias, who enjoys a glass of red wine, also asked about alcohol. Walker says that alcohol may help people fall asleep, it’s not quality sleep.
  • Walker also recommends against sleeping pills.

The bottom line: “The shorter you sleep, the shorter your life,” Walker says.

Ric Elias

Ric Elias. Photo courtesy of Red Ventures

Ric’s thought bubble: Elias’ mother died of dementia about 18 months ago, and he’s since gone on a “sleep journey.” At the end of the episode, he and Walker came to agree that there’s a balance between being a healthy sleeper and living a life and having that glass of wine.

  • “We can do a lot not only to live longer but to enjoy our lives later in life. That said, I don’t want to be the healthiest guy in the cemetery. It is in that moderation and balance that we all have to find the harmony of our choices.”

Listen to the full podcast.

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