What is sleep?
Sleep is the period of inactivity and absence of waking consciousness; the body can rest during this inactive period. Sleep is a necessity of life; without sleep we would not be able to function and or even survive! On average, a person needs about seven to eight hours of sleep. Too little (less than six hours) and too much (more than nine hours) can pose a risk for your health.
Sleep consists of four phases: you begin with the shallow phases (phase 1 & 2) and then you enter an increasingly deep phase (phase 3). From deep sleep you enter the REM (Rapid Eye Movements) phase, this is the phase during which the most vivid dreams occur and your brain is very active. When you are dreaming, your ‘big’ muscles relax, and you cannot get up. However, your small muscles are not relaxed, and your eyes move a lot behind your eyelids (hence the name Rapid Eye Movements).
As the night progresses, the amount of deep sleep decreases and the amount of REM sleep increases. This means that in the final hours of the night – when there is relatively more light and you experience more REM sleep, among other things – you are more easily woken up than at the beginning of the night. Furthermore, there are also many individual differences in the structure and duration of sleep. A factor that has a major influence on this is age. For example, babies sleep longer and deeper than the elderly, who have a much shorter sleep.
What is the function of sleep?
In general, we humans are busy and social creatures. We go to work, socialize, play sports, rush for our train, prepare food and so on. All of these activities cost us energy and so it is important to recover from them. Sleeping properly helps you to. The aforementioned deep sleep (phase 3) and dream sleep are the most important. Deep sleep provides physical recovery and dream sleep provides mental recovery. During the day, we are exposed to things that (unconsciously and/or consciously) cause stress. The great thing about sleep is that it reduces our stress levels significantly.
Why is sleep so important?
There are short- and long-term consequences to having a disturbed sleep pattern. In the short term, it can cause memory problems and/or concentration problems. In the long term, it can negatively affect our immune system, making us more susceptible to diseases and also increasing the risk of chronic conditions. Examples of these conditions are type two diabetes, dementia and depression. In addition, when someone is dealing with depression, a disturbed sleep rhythm can make the depression worse. Therefore, it is very important to consider sleep a priority. Failure to do so can have unpleasant consequences. Read the tips on how to fall asleep more easily at the bottom of this article.
Melatonin is the sleep hormone produced in the pineal gland in the brain. Ideally, the melatonin level starts to rise in the early to late evening, making you sleepy, and then stays high for most of the night, keeping you asleep. In the early morning, the melatonin level will drop and you feel ‘awake’ again.
In humans, natural melatonin production is directly linked to light exposure. In the presence of bluish light (from sunlight or light from a screen), the production of melatonin is inhibited. When exposure to light decreases, natural melatonin production is restored. The body will then want to undertake fewer activities and it will prepare for the night.
Sleeping for too long
In addition to the people who sleep badly and don’t get enough sleep, there are also some people who sleep too long. If you sleep shortly and badly, you might see this as a luxury problem, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sleeping too long can have unpleasant consequences. Headaches are a nasty consequence of sleeping too long; your body needs moisture and food, but because you are still fast asleep, your body becomes dehydrated. This can give you a headache and can cause you to wake up feeling unpleasant.
In addition, by sleeping too long, you run the risk of waking up tired, which can lead to you feeling like you have not slept that much. In such situations, don’t reward yourself with a few more hours of sleep! Doing this confuses your biological clock and causes it to become unbalanced. Your body does not understand what is happening and this keeps you tired.
Many people dealing with depression report that they sleep badly and very little. But this does not apply to everyone; about 15% of people with depression say they sleep a lot. People who are not dealing with depression, but who do sleep a lot, are also more likely to develop depression or anxiety symptoms.
Therefore, stick to the rule and try to limit your sleep to 7-8 hours each night (when aged between 18 and 64 years old). Are you still tired after 8 hours of sleep and sleep at least 9-10 hours every day? To be on the safe side, you can have your blood tested by the doctor to ensure that you are not dealing with an underlying medical condition.
“When I can’t sleep, can’t I just do something else in bed, such as like watching TV or reading?” It’s a logical idea, but by doing this, you subconsciously replace the function of your bed with all kinds of other activities. Before you know it, you won’t only associate your bed with sleep, but with all kinds of other activities instead. The problem is that these other activities do not go hand in hand with sleeping, increasing your chances of developing sleep problems. What you can do about this? The answer is very simple. Here are a few helpful tips to help you give your bed its proper function back:
Keep fixed times for going to bed and waking up. This way, your body gets used to the timing and you can fall asleep more easily.
- Turn on the light and open the curtains immediately when you wake up. This will strengthen the sleep/wake rhythm.
- Make sure you only use your bed for sleeping. Not for other activities such as watching TV, reading or using your phone.
- Do something active in the early evening hours; go for a walk or do some exercise! However, do not do this within the two hours prior to going to sleep, this can cause sleeping problems.
- Taking a hot shower a few hours before going to bed helps to relax your body.
- Don’t eat heavy meals late at night, and don’t go to bed on an empty stomach. Do not drink too much: 1 glass of water before going to bed is sufficient and ensures that you do not become dehydrated while sleeping.
- Avoid screens such as a telephone or television screen as the bright light disrupts the production of melatonin. Or at least turn down the brightness of your screens and turn on the blue filter!
- Pay attention to the amount of alcohol, caffeinated drinks or other narcotics you use. They also affect the quality of your sleep.
- Make sure you have a good balance between activities and relaxation. Rest plentily and begin relaxing towards the end of the day.
- Try to get used to the darkness at night and keep the lights turned off if you have to go to the bathroom.
- It’s important to avoid daytime naps. Taking naps during the day confuses your biological clock.
- Don’t look at your alarm clock at night! Turn it over or cover it.
You may find it difficult to put your phone away on your own before going to sleep and you might need a nudge in the right direction. Schedule a reminder in NiceDay or have your practitioner schedule a reminder which will notify you when it is time to put your phone away. Keep a record in your diary about your experience and whether it helped you fall asleep. For example, you could also schedule another event such as performing your sleeping ritual.