Why sleep is important to stay healthy

Better sleep through healthy sleep hygiene

People who sleep deeply at night can start the next day feeling refreshed. But many people suffer from insomnia, have trouble falling asleep, or sleeping through the night. Proper sleep hygiene can help you get a good night’s sleep.

How much time do we spend sleeping?

We spend about a third of our lives asleep. Although we can barely remember our experiences during sleep, it is a state of high physical and mental activity. Not only do we need healthy sleep to wake up feeling refreshed and fit the next morning, it is also essential if we want to stay healthy. Most adults need six to seven hours of sleep at night. Our deepest sleep occurs in the first few hours of sleep.

What happens while we sleep?

Sleeping has an impact on the physical, mental and spiritual levels of the organism. The body uses sleep to rest and recharge. During sleep, the rhythms of our heart rate, breathing and blood pressure are brought back into balance. The immune system is strengthened and the metabolism is regulated. Growth hormones are released, which stimulate muscle development and wound healing.

While we sleep, we also process everything we experienced during the day. This takes place in different ways through the symbolic world of our dreams, during what is called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The REM sleep phase lasts for about 20 minutes, and occurs after about 90 minutes of deep sleep. It is also good to take some time out during the day. After about an hour and a half of focused work, a break of about 20 minutes is advisable, simply to let go. Many great discoveries and revolutionary inventions stemmed from ideas “out of the blue” while falling asleep or upon waking up, and many a problem has found an amazingly simple solution during “down time”.

What causes sleep disorders?

Chronic overwork and stress, insufficient exercise, excessive coffee consumption, drinking alcoholic beverages before going to bed, working at night or irregular sleeping hours can all lead to sleep disorders.

What are symptoms of a sleep disorder?

People who sleep too little or have trouble sleeping through the night do not feel refreshed when they wake up. They also find it harder to concentrate and are less productive during the day. Sleep disorders can include symptoms such as pathological snoring or obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), teeth grinding (bruxism), sleepwalking or nightmares, and should be checked out by a doctor. In the long run, poor sleep can impact emotional health, leading to depression or anxiety disorders. Unhealthy sleep also increases the risk for disorders of the immune system, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases as well as heart attacks, high blood pressure and diabetes.

How do I know how much sleep I need?

The first and most important step to healthy sleep is to find out and accept your individual sleep needs. These are often genetically influenced and include how much sleep you need and your optimal bedtime. It depends on what type of sleeper you are: there are the early risers – the “larks”– and the nocturnal “owls”. The sleep type determines your sleep and wake rhythm. Larks have their most productive phase before noon and get tired early in the evening. Owls are late risers and are more productive in the evening. However, most people are mixed types. Which so-called chronotype you are is anchored in your genes – some also refer to this as the “inner clock”.

What helps for a good night’s sleep?

A good bed and a cool, quiet, darkened room can help you sleep better. So does healthy sleep hygiene: this includes a nutritious diet, getting enough exercise during the day, and practicing good sleep habits. For a good night’s sleep, relaxation exercises or lavender, for example, can support the healthy, sleep patterns that are right for your chronotype.

Tip for a restful night

Before falling asleep, review your day. Recall your memories in reverse order, starting at the evening and going back to the morning. Try to remember all of the day’s events without passing judgment, or being particularly happy or upset about them. Being neutral helps us to let go more easily from the day’s events so we don’t take our worries to bed.

It’s not easy to meet all demands, all the time. Here are some tips on how to relax and regain your inner balance:

  1. What am I thinking? Make a practice of focusing for a few minutes throughout the day on a topic of your choice. Try not to be distracted by outside thoughts and feelings.
  2. What am I doing? Choose an activity to do on a regular basis, such as watering a plant at the same time every day.
  3. How do I stay calm? Try not to be overwhelmed by positive or negative emotions, but instead aim for a neutral, non-judgemental approach.
  4. Can I see the positive side of things? Draw your awareness to positive aspects instead of focussing mainly on the flaws.
  5. Am I open to new things? It helps to try and free yourself from prejudices and ingrained thought patterns, to encounter new things with a sense of openness and embrace a life of constant learning.