25 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
    • 5.0 • 1 Rating

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.

    #24: Sleep is Bloody Remarkable - Part 2

    #24: Sleep is Bloody Remarkable - Part 2

    Matt is back this week with his recurring series, ‘Sleep is Bloody Remarkable’. Today’s episode is all about why we are unique when it comes to sleep. 
    When we compare our sleep to that of all other primates, humans stand out in two ways. First, we spend far less time asleep, and second, and in bloody remarkable 😂 contrast, humans get more than double the amount of REM sleep.
    Unlike many other primates, we humans are exclusively ground (or bed!) sleepers. In contrast, primates usually sleep arboreally, meaning in the branches of trees. During REM sleep, to prevent acting out our dreams, the brain paralyzes the body. But this is far too dangerous to do if you are sleeping up in the trees, lest you fall fatally down to earth.
    Homo erectus, as the first obligate biped and, with fire to deter predators and blood-sucking insects, was able to sleep fairly safely on the ground. However, fire didn’t eradicate all the risks. This forced another [bloody] remarkable change: hominids had to become far more efficient in their sleep and thus shorter duration of sleep. 
    This re-engineering of human sleep became one of the triggers that rocketed Homo sapiens to the top of the evolutionary pyramid due to REM sleep’s supercharging of 1) our socioemotional, allowing us to form the cooperative societies that formed the basis of modern civilizations, and 2) cognitive intelligence, particularly our creativity, which was the fuel to our brain-derived engine of ingenuity that helped in the great advances of civilization. 
    “Simply put: we sleep, therefore, we are.” 
    Sleep really is bloody remarkable. 
    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 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 - 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.

    Another sponsor of the episode today is our good friends at the athletic clothing company, Vuori. They have a special deal where you can get 20% off your purchase when you visit vuori.com/mattwalker. Vuori produces 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.   
    So, make your way over to LMNT and Vuori 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.

    • 13 min
    #23: Dreams – Part 6

    #23: Dreams – Part 6

    In this episode, Matt goes deeper into his exploration of  lucid dreaming. He tells us all about studies demonstrating that lucid dreamers can wake from dream sleep on command, demonstrating control over intention in their dreams, and even bring themselves to orgasm in dream sleep!
    Matt tells us about two leading methods for developing the skill of lucid dreaming. The first is Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams, which involves the creation of a conscious, deliberate intention to remember that one is dreaming. For example, repeating a certain phrase each night before sleep. The second is the Reality Testing Method. This involves consistently examining one’s environment and testing to differentiate between which of the two worlds, waking or dreaming, it is. The idea is to ingrain these tests in your waking life, so that they will flow over into your dreams, thereby triggering lucidity if you are dreaming.
    But how does the brain become lucid during dreaming? It’s been discovered that when lucid dreaming starts, the prefrontal cortex fires up into activity! This seems to be a defining quality of the lucid dreaming state, different to classical REM sleep dreaming where this rational control region of the prefrontal cortex re-engages, thereby letting you gain volitional control over what you dream.
    Matt finally poses this hypothesis: between 80 to 90 percent of the populace are not lucid dreamers. If gaining dream control was so beneficial, surely more of us would do it. However, Matt counters his own argument: as we have not stopped evolving, it’s possible that lucid dreamers represent the next iteration of hominid evolution in their ability to control their dreams, and potentially harness their preferred creative problem-solving ability! #mindblown!
    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
    #22: Dreams - Part 5

    #22: Dreams - Part 5

    In part five of his series on dreams, Matt discusses what lucid dreaming is and how it was scientifically proven to be real.
    We define lucid dreaming as the moment when an individual becomes aware they are dreaming. Historically, the concept of lucid dreaming was considered a scientific scam. First, to claim that people can gain conscious control over a normally unconscious process injects a heavy dose of ludicrous into the already preposterous experience we call dreaming. Second, how could any scientist objectively prove a subjective claim, especially when the individual is asleep when they do it?
    Well, several years ago, an experiment removed all such doubt. Lucid dreamers were placed inside an MRI scanner and instructed to alternately clench their hands. The researchers took snapshots of their brains as they were doing this, allowing them to define the precise  areas controlling each individual’s left and right hand. In the second part, the participants again underwent an MRI scan, this time, allowed to enter REM sleep.
    Once the subjects became lucid, they signaled their awareness with a specific set of eye movements so researchers could take MRI pictures of brain activity. They then gave another set of eye signals to demonstrate that, in the dream, they were now alternating between clenching their hands.
    Each time the dreamers indicated that they were clenching a hand, the scientists were able to take down timestamps. Of course, the participants weren’t physically moving their hands, but amazingly, the results of the MRI scans proved that they weren’t lying; the same regions of the brain that were active during the physical movements lit up when the lucid dreamers clenched in dreams. With these results, the scientists had gained objective proof that lucid dreamers can not only control when they are dreaming but can also control what it is they dream.
    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 our good friends at the athletic clothing company, Vuori. They have a special deal for you all where you can get 20% off your purchase when you visit vuori.com/mattwalker. Vuori produces 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. 
    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 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.
    As always, if you have thoughts or feedback you’d like to share, please reach out to Matt on Instagram.

    • 13 min
    #21: Dreams - Part 4

    #21: Dreams - Part 4

    Today’s episode focuses on a second but very different function of dreaming: the ingenious processing and interconnection of memories that inspires creativity and even problem-solving ability.
    Matt describes how we can think of REM sleep dreaming as a form of informational alchemy, in which we build new connections. As a consequence, we wake the next morning with a mind-wide web of associations capable of divining solutions to previously impenetrable problems.
    A great illustration of dream-inspired creativity is the chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, who had been trying for years to solve arguably the greatest problem of his time: how do all of the elements in the universe fit together? When Mendeleev finally lay down to sleep, his dreaming brain came up with the Periodic Table. It’s not just in the sciences that we’ve seen dream-inspired insight. Consider, for example, Sir Paul McCartney’s origination of the songs “Yesterday” and “Let It Be,” both of which came to McCartney in his dreams. 
    Matt and his team conducted a study which found that participants were 30% better at solving cognitive problems when they were woken up out of a REM sleep dreaming state. Moreover he found that the way you solve problems is different when you’re coming out of REM sleep dreaming. Matt suggests that this reflects the biological basis of creativity. Importantly, it’s not just that you dream, but once again, what you dream about that seems to matter.
    Little wonder then we’re never told to, “stay awake on a problem.” Instead, we’re told to 'sleep on it'. That phrase, or something close to it, seems to exist in most languages that Matt has enquired about, indicating that the problem-solving benefit of dream sleep is universal.
    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.

    • 15 min
    #20: Dreams - Part 3

    #20: Dreams - Part 3

    Matt’s back with part three of his series on the science of dreaming! In this episode, he discusses how he and other scientists have discovered that dreams are not simply an  unintended by-product of REM sleep. Instead, dreams provide at least two essential benefits for human beings.
    The first of these functions involves nursing our emotional and mental health and is the focus of this episode. Matt helps us understand that what makes a memory emotional is that, at the time of the experience, we release a visceral, emotional reaction. This wraps itself around the memory and red flags that memory/experience as important, and tags and bonds itself to the information, creating an “emotional memory.” 
    Years ago, Matt and his team discovered that it’s not time that heals all wounds. Instead, it is sleep, that helps the brain divorce the emotion from the memory, offering what Matt has described as, “a form of overnight therapy.” Dreaming of these emotional events allows mental-health resolution, keeping our minds safe from the clutches of anxiety and reactive depression.
    Earlier work by pioneering researcher Dr. Rosalyn Cartwright addressed the latter condition of depression. Her remarkable work studied the dreams of people showing signs of clinical depression due to difficult emotional experiences. Through her research, Dr. Cartwright found that only those patients who had been dreaming about their painful experiences went on to gain clinical resolution from their depression. 
    When it comes to resolving our emotional difficulties it’s not enough to have dreams. Instead, we seem to need to dream of the events themselves to benefit from that emotional therapy. 
    Now if you’re not remembering dreams of difficult experiences you’ve been going through, don't worry. If Matt brought you into his sleep center and woke you while you were having REM sleep, your dream reports would most likely reflect that you are doing exactly what you need to be doing in terms of your emotional processing.
    In other words, all of this work tells us that one of the functions of dreaming is to serve as a set of emotional windscreen wipers! As a result when we wake the next morning after a night of dreaming, we are dressed in a very different set of psychological clothing to that we went to sleep in--a less ruffled emotional outfit, free of the sharp creases of painful emotions.
    What Matt and his team discovered is that it’s not time that heals all wounds, but rather, it is time spent in dream sleep that provides emotional convalescence. 
    To sleep, perchance, to heal.
    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 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 particular episode. InsideTracker is a personalized biometric platform that analyzes your blood and your DNA to better understand what's happening inside of you and also 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.
    So, make your way over to InsideTracker, and take advantage of this incredible deal on this valuable and remarkably convenient service. And, as always, if you have thoughts or feedback you'd like to share, please reach out to Matt on Instagram.

    • 13 min
    #19: Dreams - Part 2

    #19: Dreams - Part 2

    In the second episode of this series about REM sleep dreaming, Matt explores what the science has to say not only about how we dream at the brain level, but what it is that we dream about.  
    Traditionally, civilizations such as those in ancient Egypt, believed that dreams were a form of divine intervention--a message from the heavens. Thereafter, Matt discusses Sigmund Freud, who introduced the notion of dreams originating from within the brain, not the heavens, and thus could be considered a science of the brain/mind. However, Freud went on to develop the (non-scientific) theory that dreams reflected the expression of our subconscious desires, but that those repressed wishes were transformed and disguised by the brain into a dream narrative.
    Freud's theory suggests that, as we dream, our repressed wishes pass through a sensor in our mind, and then come out the other side as unrecognizable experiences to the dreamer.  Freud believed that he understood how the sensor worked and could decrypt the disguised dreams, and thus know something about his patients that he could share with them. Matt notes that Freud's theory could never be proven right, nor wrong, and also why we no longer consider it as a valid scientifically rigorous theory.
    Next, Matt delves into modern-day scientific methods that have led to new theories of why we dream, including a theory that dreams are a replay of our waking life experience of our past memories. 
    He recounts the work of his friend, Dr. Robert Stickgold, who found that only 1 to 2% of our dreams are really true clear replays of our prior waking life events. Matt also notes that, based on the same findings, there is a red thread narrative that runs from our waking lives into our dreaming lives = emotional concerns that we're having during the day, and the social individuals connected to those things.
    Matt describes the latest research from a team in Japan that used MRI scans to predict the content of dreams. Matt postulates that science is getting ever closer to having the ability to know exactly what we are dreaming, and perhaps, take away ownership of the dream process from the dreamer itself.
    Matt draws this episode to a close by asking some thought-provoking questions about whether we are truly responsible for what we dream about, and whether we should be held responsible for what we dream.
    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 Athletic Greens are the sponsors of this week’s episode, and they are generously offering three 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 uses it as a full nutritional insurance policy, and second, because Matt did his research on the science and ingredients in Athletic Greens and thinks it’s science and scientific data that can be taken as ground truth.
    So, make your way over to Athletic Greens, and 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.

    • 16 min

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