As someone who has an irregular sleep schedule, I’ve definitely found myself getting less shuteye at night during the early months of the pandemic. I attribute this to a variety of factors including the anxiety-provoking news, indoor isolation, and overall stress from quarantine life.
When I heard that MasterClass ($180 for annual membership) launched a new sleep course, I knew I had to take it. Not only did I want quick tips on how to gain quality sleep, but I was also curious about the overall process of sleep so I could better understand why my body may not be getting that much needed rest in the first place. Taught by sleep expert Matthew Walker, Ph.D., MasterClass’s The Science of Better Sleep dives into the biology of sleep and provides science-backed tricks to getting a good night’s rest.
Led by Matthew Walker, PhD, a UC Berkeley professor and sleep expert, this MasterClass explores the biological processes of sleep on top of providing actionable steps to improving your sleep quality and habits.
Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, has been teaching courses on sleep and mental health since 2004. In 2017, he wrote the “New York Times” bestseller “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams,” which dives into the purpose and potential of slumber in optimizing health, and his 2019 TED Talk “Sleep is your superpower” garnered over five million views. To further learn how sleep influences physical and mental health through a series of virtual lectures from Walker himself, I decided to sign up.
Matthew Walker, PhD, a neuroscience and psychology professor at UC Berkeley, unpacks all the latest science about sleep, including how caffeine and alcohol affect it as well as the positive health effects of mindful sleep habits.
The course covers the following topics that correspond with a virtual 10-20 minute lecture:
What Is Sleep?
How Sleep Works
Night Owl or Morning Lark?
The Buzz on Alcohol and Caffeine
Prevent Sleep Debt
Fire Up the Brain
Sleep Across Our Life Span
The Absurd Act of Dreaming
Sleep and the Human Body
Diet and Sleep
Sleep to Thrive
How to Sleep Better
Reclaim Your Sleep
The Science of Better Sleep includes 15 videos, which all add up to a total of three hours and 12 mins of lectures. Therefore, you can take the class in one sitting or over a span of 15 weeks — watching one video per week. In addition to the lectures, the course comes with a 24-page course guide with key takeaways and highlighted facts. MasterClass also offers an optional community forum where you can start discussions with other students on course content.
My experience taking the class
Walker recognizes that the loss of sleep is one of the greatest public health epidemics and is very solution-oriented in response to common sleep issues affecting adults today. While I was initially a little intimidated to watch the lectures on physiology and the biology of sleep as I am not super familiar with the content, Walker makes it very digestible and easy to understand with his dialogue as well as the featured animations and graphics. He breaks down multifaceted concepts by emphasizing mind-blowing facts and analogies, which are highlighted in the workbook for review.
For instance, he addresses how to fall back asleep after you’ve accidentally woken up at 3 a.m., which helped me feel less alone when I was really struggling with it during the early months of the pandemic. Some of his tips include doing the following before bed: Setting the temperature of the bedroom to 65 °F, journaling, reading a book, and engaging in mindfulness exercises.
The best part of this course is being able to apply new, real-time sleep habits to get better shuteye. I am proud to say they’ve drastically improved my sleep patterns and while my sleep routine still isn’t perfect, it’s more manageable than before. Some actions I undertake for quality sleep include getting some sunshine earlier in the day for that much-needed vitamin D and unwinding with some music before bedtime. I’ve found that getting natural sunlight and developing a relaxing routine has resulted in a restful slumber most days of the week.
What I liked
Walker presents the topic of sleep through a multidisciplinary lens. From a biological approach, I learned how good sleep promotes a healthy hormonal balance and allows the brain to make new memories. He also addresses sleep from a sociocultural perspective when amplifying traditional sleep practices from different countries. I felt inspired after learning how Spaniards take long siestas in the middle of working days, so occasionally block some time between meetings for an afternoon nap.
Through this course, you learn as much about yourself as you do about sleep. For example, Walker emphasizes chronotypes (sleep patterns) and reviews the two most common ones: night owl and morning lark. I learned people do not choose to be a morning or night person – it all depends on their genetics. Like 30% of the general population, I discovered I’m a night owl as I’m more creative in the evening and can only wake up after snoozing my morning alarm like 10 times.
While you can’t directly interact with the instructor, most discussion threads have interactive prompts, such as taking a quiz to figure out if you’re a night owl or morning lark or sharing your favorite sleep tricks. It was rewarding to gain insight from others and engage in conversations about innovative sleep products on the market.
Even though this course is very action-oriented, Walker recognizes that each solution is not one-size-fits-all. Honestly, some of his sleep recommendations like taking a hot bath or journaling before bedtime did not help me, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help you. He offers a variety of recommendations and tips you can try until you find one that works for you. After taking this course, I recommended a lot of tips to my friends and family and surprisingly found that many of them have different sleep regimens than my own.
As with MasterClass courses in general, I like the fact that this course can be taken at your own pace and time. While courses with interactive quizzes and exams can be beneficial by helping you stay on track, I prefer ones without them so I can focus solely on the content instead of my grades.
Ultimately, this course is not just about equipping you with knowledge on sleep but helping you adopt better sleep habits to feel more well-rested. By the end of the class, you know exactly what happens to your body during sleep, so you can empower and influence others with tips to live more satisfying, healthier lives just by the power of good sleep habits.