For those who have trouble sleeping — or whose sleep patterns have been upended by worry during the season of COVID-19 — author Matthew Walker has plenty of solutions in his book Why We Sleep.

Walker talks about the science behind sleep as well as its importance to healthy living.

For instance, routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes the immune system and doubles the risk of cancer.

Poor sleep habits increase the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, disrupts blood sugar levels and sets an individual on a path toward heart disease, Walker’s research shows.

On the positive side, sleep enriches brain functions, enhancing the ability to learn, memorize and make logical decisions. It also strengthens the immune system, prevents infection and wards off all manner of sickness.

New research shows “sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day,” Walker writes.

For those who have long been fascinated by the world of dreams, Walker underscores the importance of the dream, as well as the rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep that accompanies it.

Why We Sleep also examines a vast array of sleep disorders.

• Tips for better sleep

For those struggling with how to to find the deep and quality sleep, Walker has that covered in his book, as well. Consider these tips.

• Wind down without a screen

Artificial and nighttime light delays the release of melatonin, which signals the brain that is it time for sleep. Sleep-depriving light comes from overhead lighting and lamps, but what has twice the sleep-depriving impact is the blue LED light from laptops, smartphones and tablets.

Sign off at least an hour before bedtime.

• Avoid alcohol

Even though alcohol is considered a sedative, it does not induce a natural sleep. The fragmented sleep produced by alcohol means sleep is not restorative and creates exhaustion the following day, Walker writes.

More importantly, though, it blocks REM sleep and could lead to the hallucinations or delusions. If you can’t avoid alcohol altogether, stop with the before-dinner drink or glass of wine with dinner. For those who insist they need a daily drink, Walker suggests having it around 10 a.m. if you want to avoid sleep disruptions.

• Turn down the thermostat

The body’s core temperature needs to decrease by 2 to 3 degrees F for the best quality sleep. A bedroom temperature of 65 degrees F is optimum.

• Avoid caffeine after lunch

Caffeine, which is prevalent in not only coffee, but certain teas, energy drinks and even dark chocolate or ice cream, is one of the biggest culprits in elusive sleep. Avoid usage at least by noon.

• Sleeping pills a no-no

Sleeping pills impede natural sleep, can damage health and increase the risk of life-threatening diseases. Pills target the same part of the brain as alcohol and stop brain cells from firing. Sleep that comes from both pills and drugs lacks the deepest brainwaves and produces unwanted side effects such as grogginess and forgetfulness, Walker writes.

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