Healthy sleep

People who suffer from sleep disorders are often tired during the day and experience exhaustion (Zulley & Knab 2014). The global dimension of insomnia is a matter cause – people are already talking about a worldwide epidemic (Stranges et al. 2012). But why is restful sleep so important? And what can we do to ensure healthy sleep ourselves?

Sleep: Neither a luxury nor a waste of time   

Nearly a third of our lives is spent sleeping. During sleep, our body cells renew and everyday impressions and information are processed. Too little, or poor sleep, risks not only difficulties in concentration, but also lower performance levels. Above all, sleep deprivation can put your health at risk, including a weakened immune system, headaches and tension. Moreover, links have been made between sleep disorders and psychological illnesses such as depression. And the digestive and cardiovascular systems also need rest.  

Restful sleep follows different sleep stages: light, deep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The phases change in a regular rhythm of about 90 minutes. We lightly wake from the REM stage before falling back into a deeper sleep. On average, adults sleep seven to eight hours. The actual amount of sleep required varies from person to person: some feel well rested after five hours while others need more than nine hours to get a good night’s sleep. Decisive for regeneration however, is not only the duration of sleep, but also the length of deep sleep which mainly happens in the first four to five hours after falling asleep.

Those who sleep too little or poorly, not only risk having difficulty concentrating, but also show lower levels of performance.

From time to time, most of us experience sleep problems. These can usually be remedied using the tips below. However, if these measures do not help and the sleep disorders persist for weeks, you should consult your doctor to determine the cause (e.g. respiratory disorders, stress, mental strain or medication). For those who work in shifts or at night can be particularly affected by sleep disorders due to disturbed day / night rhythms.

Here is some advice to help you sleep better - especially during shift work.

Tips for a good and healthy night’s sleep

  • Regular rhythms and rituals: Every person has their own rhythm. Identify your own and sleep at regular times – even on the weekend – to keep your inner clock in the “right rhythm.” In addition, rituals can be useful in helping your body learn that rest is imminent, for instance with an audio book or a glass of milk with honey. 
  • Sleeping environment: The best conditions for sleeping are a cooler room where as little light as possible can penetrate. A comfortable bed, fresh linens and quiet are also necessary.

  • The bed as a sleeping place: Use the bed only for sleeping. Over time, our body establishes a connection between bedtime and sleep and automatically reacts with an increased willingness to fall asleep. Watching TV or eating in bed sends an undesired message.

  • Physical exercise: To encourage the fatigue necessary for sleep, we need enough exercise during the day. Avoid very intensive exercise late in the evening, as it has an activating effect. Doing sports outdoors in daylight has a pleasant side effect: the sun recharges your battery with the hormone serotonin which produces the sleep hormone melatonin in the evening.

  • Meals: Dinner should be eaten at a reasonable time in the evening. Late and heavy meals are stressful to the body and hinder sleep. Ideally, you should have your last large meal of the day three hours before bedtime to have enough time for proper digestion.

  • Alcohol / Nicotine: A glass of wine or beer in the evening may make you tired at first, but the liver has to work harder, which thwarts restful sleep and can lead to earlier waking. As a stimulate, nicotine can also interfere with falling asleep. There should be at least four hours between having caffeinated drinks and going to bed. 

  • Relaxation: Begin to wind down at least 30 minutes before bedtime, e.g. by walking, relaxing music or reading. A hot bath can also have a relaxing effect and provide warm feet, which are very important to falling asleep. Television, laptops, tablets and mobile phones are stimulating, especially due to their blue screen light and should not be used one hour before falling asleep.

  • Staring at the ceiling: If you are unable to fall asleep and feel restless, get up again and return to bed once you feel tired. Even when you wake up during the night and are unable to return to sleep, don’t be annoyed and don’t try to force yourself to sleep. Your body relaxes just by lying down.

  • Brooding: The thoughts that come to us at night are often rather negative because our inner clock is exhausted, and our mood is lower. Avoid trying to solve problems and focus rather on something nice. If the day’s activities just won’t let you go, write them down: three good things, three bad things and three things you want to do tomorrow. This helps you to process and finish the day.

Decisive for regeneration however, is not only the duration of sleep, but also the length of deep sleep