Sufficient restful sleep is a decisive factor for quality of life: it gives us energy for performance in everyday life, influences our mood, eating habits and physical condition. It also supports learning processes, muscle building and repair processes that keep us healthy.
Why do we need sleep?
We spend almost a third of our time sleeping. After about 16 hours of being awake, our body needs a resting phase because the capacity of the human brain is then temporarily exhausted. During sleep, the brain then processes the information it has absorbed during the waking period.
The immune system and many organs regenerate during sleep. For example, the intestines or the skin can renew their cells or carry out repair processes. Our body also gives direct feedback during sleep deprivation, which underlines these facts: our skin looks stressed, we get circles under the eyes, feel lethargic, have problems concentrating and are quickly irritated. Under extreme conditions we can remain sleepless for a maximum of 14 days before we die of sleep deprivation.
What happens to our bodies while we sleep? The sleep cycles and their meaning
After we have fallen asleep, we only have a diminished consciousness. Respiratory rate, blood pressure, body temperature and pulse drop, tendon reflexes fail and the pupils narrow.
We go through three to five sleep cycles in one night. These last about 90 minutes each. Each cycle consists of different stages. The stages are presented here in a simplified form for better understanding. From a medical point of view, sleep is a very complex and not yet fully researched topic.
After the transition from the waking state to sleep and at the end of a sleep cycle, we are in the REM phase. The abbreviation stands for Rapid Eye Movement, because rapid eye movements can be recorded. In this phase, mainly vivid and intensive dreams take place and it is currently assumed that the many learning processes and emotions are processed here. This would explain why REM sleep deprivation mainly causes concentration problems and memory disorders. 20-25% of our sleep can be attributed to the REM phase.
In the light sleep phase following REM, only slow and light eye movements can be perceived and heart rate and body temperature are reduced. The musculature relaxes and some people start snoring. One is still relatively sensitive to irritation and wakes up quickly to light or noise.
In the following deep sleep phase, the body reduces muscle tension and the activity of the brain, heart and circulation to a minimum. Here you sleep very soundly and do not wake up as quickly by external stimuli. The body begins to release growth hormones. This is of great importance for repair processes of the cells as well as for the building of muscles, for example. Diseases are fought by the immune system and information is stored in the long-term memory. This sleep phase is therefore very important for health and for the long-term storage of what has been learned.
Sleep and biorhythm - our inner clock
Our body orients itself to day and night. It is basically geared to sleep in the dark and to be awake in the light. Ideally, you fall asleep between 9 and 11 pm and get up between 5 and 7 am. This is the best time for most people to sleep, as this is when the natural hormonal and organic processes take place at the right time.
More importantly, sleep always takes place at the same or similar time. In this way you can train, so to speak, to wake up before the alarm clock goes off and feel rested, because the sleep cycles and phases are set up in such a way that the right hormones are released at the right time, which influence our energy level and performance.
Hormones and neurotransmitters associated with sleep
The hormone melatonin controls sleep and is secreted at night. So it is the sleep input and therefore has a great importance for our sleep quality. Melatonin is formed from the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can be promoted by certain nutrients in food. The happiness hormone serotonin already provides a feeling of relaxation and well-being as a preliminary stage, which is an optimal preparation for the following sleep. For example, carbohydrates and the subsequent release of insulin favour the activation of serotonin. For this reason they are also recommended in the evening and less in the morning.
The production of melatonin can be inhibited by an irregular biorhythm, stress or light, especially blue light. This has a correspondingly negative effect on sleep. Due to the lack of daylight, for example during the winter months in the north or working in a room without windows, the melatonin level can be kept up too long. This also has negative consequences, because if production is not stopped during the day, this can lead to inertia and even depression.
The causes and consequences of sleep disorders
Meanwhile many people are already affected by problems falling asleep and sleeping through the night. These have mental on the one hand and physical causes on the other:
With the wrong diet you can upset your hormone system so much that you can no longer get quality sleep. This is because the macro- and micronutrients have a direct influence on the release of various neurotransmitters and hormones. An unhealthy diet also promotes the storage of more body fat, which in turn worsens and slows down hormone processes.
Lifestyle, in particular the management of stressors, is another decisive factor.
If you are mentally stressed all day long, you are constantly in "fight and flight mode", which means that your body is constantly sending the signal that you are in danger. Even though we no longer have to flee from bears today, the physical processes in the stress state are the same. Thus, cortisol - a stress hormone - is constantly released. The adrenal gland, which produces this hormone, gets messed up and starts to release cortisol at night as well, which then prevents you from sleeping.
Too little exercise can also have a negative effect on sleep quality. People who just sit all day and do not exercise run a greater risk of sleeping badly. Again, hormone release is an important reason for this phenomenon.
How can I improve my sleep quality?
- A healthy diet that focuses on natural foods and keeps blood sugar stable during the day has a positive influence on sleep. Avoiding sugar is also a decisive factor. With the right breakfast link the perfect breakfast, and in the evening a few long-chain carbohydrates such as sweet potato, rice or quinoa keep hormone production in balance. Excessively heavy and fatty meals should be avoided at least two hours before going to bed.
- Sufficient exercise can optimize sleep. At least two intensive training sessions per week as well as walks and mobility exercises are recommended.
Read more: Home Workout
- A check at the doctor can be helpful to find out if there is a micronutrient deficiency. For example, sufficient magnesium, B vitamins and vitamin D3 can affect the ability to fall asleep and sleep through the night.
- Work on your personal mindset and learn to deal with stressors in a different way. For example, meditating, writing down goals and daily events can help in the long term to help you relax better in the evening. Everything that is still important and needs to be done should be written down so that you can switch off your head in the evening.
- Avoid blue lights two hours before going to sleep: The best thing to do is not to look at any more screens. If there is no other way, there are now blue light filters at least in smartphones, which you can activate in the settings. In addition, there are various providers of glasses that filter blue light, which you can put on while watching TV in the evening, for example. A daylight lamp in the office can also balance the melatonin production so that the hormone is not released during the day.
- Always go to sleep and get up at about the same time: Ideally you go to bed before 11 p.m. and get up at 7 a.m. at the latest.