32 episodes

The Matt Walker Podcast is all about sleep, the brain, and the body. Matt is a Professor of Neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of the book, Why We Sleep and has given a few TED talks. Matt is an awkward British nerd who adores science and the communication of science to the public.

The Matt Walker Podcast Dr. Matt Walker

    • Health & Fitness
    • 4.9 • 588 Ratings

The Matt Walker Podcast is all about sleep, the brain, and the body. Matt is a Professor of Neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of the book, Why We Sleep and has given a few TED talks. Matt is an awkward British nerd who adores science and the communication of science to the public.

    # 31: Insomnia - Part 6

    # 31: Insomnia - Part 6

    Very understandably, many insomnia patients try to self-medicate their condition with varied “sleep aids”. The tragedy us that most of them not only fail to help but actually make insomnia worse.  
    Most common among these is alcohol, which hurts your sleep in at least three different ways: 1) it sedates your brain, rather than generating naturalistic sleep 2) it increases the frequency of nighttime awakenings and makes it harder to fall back to sleep, and 3) it inhibits REM sleep.
    THC also inhibits REM sleep, and users can develop a dependency on and tolerance to it, requiring more to get the same sleep effect. Worse still, THC is associated with a severe withdrawal insomnia, which only leads to relapse use. 
    Another ineffective tool is melatonin. Melatonin does not help people with insomnia sleep, as we discussed in the episode all about Melatonin. 
    The other option is classic prescription sleeping pills. However, based on their safety concerns and their minimal effectiveness long-term, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American College of Physicians (ACP) now state that classic sleeping should no longer be the first-line treatment for insomnia. Instead, the first line treatment for insomnia should be the non-drug approach called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi), and the one that Matt typically advocates for.
    At a high level, CBTi involves working with a trained clinician for several weeks to change your habits, behaviors, mental beliefs, and stress around sleep. Many people with insomnia lose all confidence in their sleep and have terrible anxieties around not sleeping—in other words, their sleep controls them, and CBTI is designed to reverse that. 
    Many clinical studies have shown that CBTi is just as effective as sleeping pills in the short term yet has no negative side effects. Unlike sleeping pills, its benefits can last for many years after stopping work with your therapist. 
    Please note that Matt is not a medical doctor, and none of the content in this podcast should be considered medical advice in any way, shape, or form, nor prescriptive in any way.
    Today’s podcast is supported by MasterClass - the online streaming platform where anyone can learn from the world's best about a variety of topics such as cooking, business, art, entertainment, and, of course, technology. When you sign up, you get access to all of the classes taught by such masters as Martin Scorsese, Venus Williams, Gordon Ramsay,  and Bill Clinton to name just a few of Matt’s favorites. You may even find a masterclass from a familiar sleep scientist! So if you're curious and have a thirst for learning,  head on over to masterclass.com/mattwalker and you will get a discount when you sign up.
    Another sponsor of today's podcast is the biochemical electrolyte drink company LMNT, and they are very kindly offering eight free sample packs when you purchase any one of their orders at drinklmnt.com/mattwalker. LMNT is an electrolyte sports drink that I can fully get behind - it's created from the basis of science, and it has no sugar, no coloring, and no artificial ingredients – all qualities that are so important to maintaining your blood biochemical balance. 
    So, make your way over to LMNT and MasterClass to take advantage of these incredible deals. And, as always, if you have thoughts or feedback you’d like to share, please reach out to Matt on Instagram.

    • 21 min
    # 30: Insomnia - Part 5

    # 30: Insomnia - Part 5

    Some of the first neurological-related discoveries about insomnia were made by placing healthy sleepers or patients with insomnia inside brain scanners, and measuring changes in the activity in different parts of the brain as they tried to fall asleep. In the good sleepers, three main regions of the brain started to shut down at sleep: 1) emotion-related regions, 2) basic alertness-generating regions, and 3) the sensory awareness gate of the brain.
    There were also changes in the functional connectivity of large-scale networks in the brain. In patients with insomnia, the functional connectivity between these networks changes differently. Specifically, two large-scale networks show abnormalities in patients with insomnia: the default mode network, associated with ruminating and thinking about the past and future; and the salience network, associated with detecting threats and instigating changes in mood and emotional reactivity. These two areas become overly communicative and too tightly bound up together in their ongoing chatter of connectivity in patients with insomnia. Once again, this can lead to excessive worry, rumination, and emotion and a feeling of being under threat.
    Matt has previously mentioned how patients with insomnia can have an excessive release of stress-related chemicals. Those chemicals can also flood the brain, causing excessive activation in all the stress-related regions described above. Critically, though, it’s a reciprocal relationship—if you have hyperactivation in those parts of the brain, you can also trigger the body to release those stress-related chemicals. This becomes a self-fulfilling, negative-spiral prophecy where, as each response increases, further stress-related brain and body activation occurs. 
    These measurable changes in the brain and body teach us that insomnia is associated with a specific, and quite complex, set of changes within the brain and the body. No wonder the blunt instruments of old-school sleeping pills are yet to be the ideal way to treat insomnia.
    Please note that Matt is not a medical doctor, and none of the content in this podcast should be considered medical advice in any way, shape, or form, nor prescriptive in any way.
    The good people at InsideTracker are one of the sponsors of this week's episode, and they are generously offering a special 25% off any one of their programs for anyone who uses the above link during the time window of this episode. InsideTracker is a personalized biometric platform that analyzes your blood and your DNA to better understand what's happening inside of you and offers suggestions regarding things that you can do to better try and adjust some of those numbers, optimize them, and, as a result, optimize you.
    Also sponsoring this week are those fine people at Athletic Greens , and they are generously offering 3 benefits for anyone who uses the above link for their first order: 1) a discount on your order; 2) a one-year free supply of vitamin D; 3) five free travel packs. Athletic Greens is a nutrition drink that combines a full complement of antioxidants, minerals and biotics, together with essential vitamins. Matt’s been using it for several years now because he’s serious about his health, and because he did his research on the science and ingredients in Athletic Greens and thinks its scientific data can be taken as ground truth.
    So, make your way over to InsideTracker and Athletic Greens to take advantage of these incredible deals. And, as always, if you have thoughts or feedback you’d like to share, please reach out to Matt on Instagram.

    • 19 min
    #29: Insomnia - Part 4

    #29: Insomnia - Part 4

    Today’s episode focuses on changes within the bodies of people suffering from insomnia. Almost all forms of chronic insomnia come with a significant psychological component, namely emotional distress and anxiety. This starts a Rolodex of anxiety spinning once you turn off the lights. This leads to rumination and catastrophizing, which will thwart any hopes of a good night’s sleep.
    Since psychological stress is one of the principal triggers of chronic primary insomnia, researchers went in search of the underlying biological cause. We found two culprits. 
    First was an overactive state of the sympathetic nervous system. Under normal circumstances, it will occasionally switch on in response to a threat, kicking off a cascade response which increases your heart rate, blood flow, and metabolic rate. However, a chronic elevated flight or flight state, as occurs in insomniacs, has damaging biological consequences. A racing heart and raised metabolic rate lead to a raised core body temperature, when exactly the opposite is necessary for good sleep. 
    Second was the discovery of an excessive amount of activity in the adrenal cortisol-producing system (called the HPA axis) in insomniacs. When you experience a chronic state of stress, worry, and anxiety, that adrenal stress HPA axis instigates a chain of command response, resulting in the release of the wake-promoting hormone called cortisol. In good healthy sleepers, cortisol levels normally hit their lowest levels right at the point they’re falling asleep.
    In insomnia patients, cortisol levels do start falling early in the evening. But then, they spike back up right at the point of bedtime. Later in the middle of the night, we also see cortisol levels once again spike in insomnia patients. These two spikes seem to overlap with the two main flavors of insomnia: sleep-onset and sleep-maintenance. 
    Please note that Matt is not a medical doctor, and none of the content in this podcast should be considered medical advice in any way, shape, or form, nor prescriptive in any way.
    Sponsoring today's podcast is the biochemical electrolyte drink company LMNT, and they are very kindly offering eight free sample packs when you purchase any one of their orders at drinklmnt.com/mattwalker. LMNT is an electrolyte sports drink that I can fully get behind - it's created from the basis of science, and it has no sugar, no coloring, and no artificial ingredients – all qualities that are so important to maintaining your blood biochemical balance. 
    Another sponsor of the podcast this week are those fine people at Athletic Greens, and they are generously offering 3 benefits for anyone who uses the above link for their first order: 1) a discount on your order; 2) a one-year free supply of vitamin D; 3) five free travel packs. Athletic Greens is a nutrition drink that combines a full complement of antioxidants, minerals and biotics, together with essential vitamins. Matt’s been using it for several years now because he’s serious about his health, and because he did his research on the science and ingredients in Athletic Greens and thinks its scientific data can be taken as ground truth.
    So, make your way over to LMNT andAthletic Greens and take advantage of these incredible deals. As always, if you have thoughts or feedback you’d like to share, please reach out to Matt on Instagram.

    • 22 min
    #28: Insomnia - Part 3

    #28: Insomnia - Part 3

    Today’s episode takes two questions as its subject: first, why does someone develop insomnia, and second, what adds gasoline to the sleep-disorder fire of insomnia and only makes it rage more powerfully? These are two very complex questions, but through lots of great science and wonderful scientists, we now have a conceptual model explaining how you may find yourself falling into the pit of insomnia. This is called the “3-Ps” model, and it consists of a three-step knock-on cascade of factors that lead to insomnia: predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors.
    Predisposing factors are those that make a person more vulnerable to insomnia, a good example being certain types of genes that play a non-trivial role in your risk of developing insomnia. It’s been discovered that insomnia shows a genetic heritability of between 28%-45%, so if one or both of your parents had insomnia, there is a predisposing risk of developing it. This is not, however, an absolute guarantee that you will develop the condition; these genes simply make you statistically more predisposed. Instead, something else has to come along to flick the first domino that causes the chain reaction development of insomnia.
    This inciting flick is what the second P—precipitating factors—refers to. The word “precipitate” comes from the Latin root praecipitat, meaning “thrown headlong into something,” which is a good description of what a precipitating factor is—it’s a trigger that pushes you headlong into this thing called an insomnia disorder. Examples of these factors include bereavement, bad breakups, and stress at work, all of which can push someone over the threshold of developing insomnia.
    The third P—perpetuating factors—can also be understood through its Latin root, perpetuus, meaning “to continue or make permanent.” Perpetuating factors are those which continue the condition and make it even more permanent. They include examples of poor sleep hygiene like drinking too much caffeine during the day or using alcohol or THC (which is involved in cannabis) as a sedative in the evening. Of course, it’s completely understandable that someone suffering from insomnia would reach for the crutch of alcohol or THC, but they are now understood to be perpetuating factors that only make matters worse.
    Please note that Matt is not a medical doctor, and none of the content in this podcast should be considered medical advice in any way, shape, or form, nor prescriptive in any way.
    Today’s podcast is supported by MasterClass - the online streaming platform where anyone can learn from the world's best about a variety of topics such as cooking, business, art, entertainment, writing, sports, science, health, and, of course, technology. When you sign up, you get access to all of the classes taught by such masters as Martin Scorsese, Venus Williams, Gordon Ramsay, Steph Curry, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Timberland, Ron Howard, and Bill Clinton to name just a few of Matt’s favorites. You may even find a masterclass from a familiar sleep scientist! So if you're curious and have a thirst for learning,  head on over to masterclass.com/mattwalker and you will get a discount when you sign up.
    So, make your way over toMasterClass to take advantage of this incredible deal. And, as always, if you have thoughts or feedback you’d like to share, please reach out to Matt on Instagram.

    • 14 min
    #27: Insomnia - Part 2

    #27: Insomnia - Part 2

    There is no quick test that can determine insomnia. Instead, the diagnosis of clinical insomnia disorder is based on a set of clinical assessment and interviews. These center on three core features: 1) difficulties falling asleep, 2) difficulty staying asleep, or 3) waking up and not feeling refreshed by your sleep.  Furthermore, to receive the diagnosis, you often have to be experiencing these things at least three nights per week; and having these issues for three straight months.
    One meta-analysis looked at over twenty studies of people with insomnia or healthy sleep. It found far fewer differences in their sleep recordings than you would imagine. The insomnia patients did spend more time awake, and there were reductions in their deep non-REM and REM sleep. But none of the differences  explain the degree of suffering for those with insomnia. 
    This mismatch can be illustrated by an extreme example. There is a rare variant or subtype of insomnia called sleep state misperception. It is characterized by a mismatch whereby the patient reports their sleep as very bad. But the sleep recordings show a different story. The recordings show that the patient has slept a full, normal night of sleep, but the patient will tell you that they felt as though they never slept a wink! 
    Such patients used to be dismissed as having nothing wrong with them. Now, science and medicine no longer take this view, and instead, understand that there is a mismatch going on, that the patient has a misperception of their sleep, and they still require clinical consideration.
    So, that’s an overview of insomnia classification and diagnosis. Please note that Matt is not a medical doctor, and none of the content in this podcast should be considered medical advice in any way, shape, or form, nor prescriptive in any way.
    The good people at InsideTracker are one of the sponsors of this week's episode, and they are generously offering a special 25% off any one of their programs for anyone who uses the above link during the time window of this episode. InsideTracker is a personalized biometric platform that analyzes your blood and your DNA to better understand what's happening inside of you and offers suggestions regarding things that you can do to better try and adjust some of those numbers, optimize them, and, as a result, optimize you.
    Also sponsoring this week are those fine people at Athletic Greens, and they are generously offering 3 benefits for anyone who uses the above link for their first order: 1) a discount on your order; 2) a one-year free supply of vitamin D; 3) five free travel packs. Athletic Greens is a nutrition drink that combines a full complement of antioxidants, minerals and biotics, together with essential vitamins. Matt’s been using it for several years now, first because he’s serious about his health, and second, because Matt did his research on the science and ingredients in Athletic Greens and thinks scientific data that can be taken as ground truth.
    So, make your way over to InsideTracker and Athletic Greens to take advantage of these incredible deals. And, as always, if you have thoughts or feedback you’d like to share, please reach out to Matt on Instagram. 

    • 16 min
    #26: Insomnia - Part 1

    #26: Insomnia - Part 1

    Today’s episode is the first in a 7-part series on insomnia. Matt starts with a calming reality—insomnia isn’t a single bad night or a string of bad nights of sleep. In the US, epidemiological studies have suggested that insomnia disorder is as prevalent as the obesity epidemic: around 10-15% of the population suffer from clinical-grade insomnia, making it the most common sleep disorder. Indeed, one out of every two people will experience insomnia during their lifetime. It is therefore very likely that you or someone close to you is suffering from insomnia.
    But what is insomnia? There are perhaps different “flavors” of insomnia, although it depends on the clinical criteria used by different countries. One useful way scientists and doctors have thought about it is on the basis of three different features: 1) sleep-onset insomnia, 2) sleep-maintenance insomnia, and 3) non-restorative sleep. These features are not mutually exclusive.
    Clinicians often use the 30/30/3 “rule of thumb” to first distinguish the possibility of insomnia. The 30/30/3 rule means the following: 1) it takes you at least 30 minutes to fall asleep,  or 2) 30 minutes go fall back to sleep after waking during the night, and 3) that this is  happening consistently at least 3 nights a week.
    Insomnia is *not* sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is  defined as having the sufficient ability to generate sleep, but insufficient opportunity to get it. Insomnia is the opposite of this. Insomnia is the insufficient ability to generate good quality or quantity of sleep, despite having sufficient opportunity time to sleep.
    Finally, Matt points out that insomnia can be a standalone condition, or a secondary symptom of something else, for example, chronic back pain.
    Please note that Matt is not a medical doctor, and none of the content in this podcast should be considered medical advice in any way, shape, or form, nor prescriptive in any way.
    One of the sponsors of the episode today is a long-time one, our good friends at the athletic clothing company, Vuori. They, too, have a special deal for you all where you can get 20% off your purchase when you visit vuori.com/mattwalker. Vuori produces really good, high quality clothing, and they offset their carbon footprint 100%, both of which, of course, mean a great deal to me. So, if you like athletic clothing, and you wish to help the planet out, then check them out at vuori.com/mattwalker and get 20% off your purchase. 
    Another sponsor of today's podcast is the biochemical electrolyte drink company LMNT, and they are very kindly offering eight free sample packs when you purchase any one of their orders at drinklmnt.com/mattwalker. LMNT is an electrolyte sports drink that I can fully get behind - it's created from the basis of science, and it has no sugar, no coloring, and no artificial ingredients – all qualities that are so important to maintaining your blood biochemical balance. So, if you want to give LMNT a try, just head on over to drinklmnt.com/mattwalker and get your eight free samples with your first purchase. 
     And, as always, if you have thoughts or feedback you’d like to share, please reach out to Matt on Instagram.

    • 20 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
588 Ratings

588 Ratings

Oilcraft 🤍 ,

Thank you

I read the book Why We Sleep. I ignored your recommendation to take sleep seriously my words.) I regret that. The feeling with malaise, getting colds often, and more

I made a decision that a full night sleep
is as vital as drinking water. I’m thankful for the scientific research you are communicating to us.

Kimball S ,

So very human and helpful

Just want to thank you for your warmth, great teaching skill and subject matter. I had been on an antidepressant for many years and over the last year tapered off. The lingering withdrawal symptom is difficulty sleeping. Your work is so important.

BLJSchoolPsych ,

Applicable, interesting SLEEP SCIENCE!

Love everything this man records or writes. Extremely useful for the lay person and just enough science for the nerds.

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