During sleep eyes are closed, muscles are relaxed, responses for external stimuli are reduced. The body mostly remains motionless, while several parts of the brain work actively. Sleeping consists of a cycle of two phases: REM and non-REM cycles. Dreaming occurs in the REM cycle.
The time of wakefulness and the feeling of sleepiness are controlled by a biological clock. This daily rhythm is called circadian rhythm. According to researches the biological clock is in the hypothalamus within the brain, and is controlled by melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland. The clock may be disturbed by jetlag, nightshifts or rotating shifts.
The importance of sleep
Sleep is essential to normal physical and psychological functioning. It recharges the body, creates opportunity for the brain to organize all information experienced in the course of the day, it is also crucial for the functioning of the immune system, the heart and the vascular system. Besides, it supports healing and regenerating processes, maintaining the ideal body weight, and it is necessary for the optimal operation of several brain functions, such as memory, learning and concentration.
Optimal sleep duration
Adults usually need 8 hours of sleep per day (though this may vary individually), children and teenagers need more. Older adults sleep for shorter time and more superficially then in their earlier ages.
Lack of sleep
Lack of sleep may affect the memory and the ability to focus, moreover it can end up in having a bad mood. In addition, it may increase the risk of heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, and early death. In the short term the risks of traffic accidents increase, and the productivity at home or work declines with sleep deprivation.
Insomnia, snoring and sleeping apnoe are sleeping disorders. If you wake up tired, feeling exhausted in the daytime and you feel it effects your mood and health, visit your doctor! Your general practitioner may send you to a sleep test.
Tips for quality sleep
More relaxing sleep can be achieved with proper sleep hygiene and introducing good sleeping habits. Sleeping pills cannot offer long term solutions however they can lead to addiction. Furthermore, these medications do not solve the underlying cause and may serve only as a symptomatic cure.
Following some advices may improve sleep quality and ensure to wake up rested in the morning:
- Set a daily routine, go to bed, and get up the same time every day.
- Do not spend more then 8,5 hours in bed. If you have problems falling asleep, go to bed later.
- If you have problem falling asleep, do not keep checking the clock, as it will make you become stressed. If possible, do not keep a clock in the bedroom.
- If you do not fall asleep in 20 minutes, get up, go to another room to relax, read, and wait until you feel sleepy.
- Your bed is for sleeping. If you are awake, do not stay in bed, do not watch movies, eat, work there. Do not have screens (TV, phone, laptop) in bed.
- Establish a pre-sleep period without thinking about solving your problems, without phones, computers. Instead of those, read, listen to some music. Learn a relaxation technique and use it before bedtime.
- Do not drink a lot of water before going to bed.
- Exercise regularly, but not 3-4 hours prior to bedtime.
- Feel comfortable in your bedroom. The room should have a neutral temperature, it should be dark and free of noises. Choose a comfortable bed. Remove all objects from the room that may create stress (ticking clock, electronic devices with lights on etc.)
- Avoid the consumption of alcohol, coffee, do not smoke. These substances may disturb the sleeping cycle.
- Avoid consuming fatty, heavy meals before bedtime.
- Avoid daytime napping. If you would like to nap in the afternoon, make it only half an hour, and at least 4 hours before bedtime.
- Do not use sleeping pills, tranquilizers, as they can lead to addiction (for example those with benzodiazepine contents) and may trigger insomnia. Take sleeping pills only if your doctor recommended it.
- On your digital devices use a blue light filter after 8 o’clock to help melatonin levels get optimized in your brain.
Visit your doctor if you wake up tired, feel restless in bed, have problems with falling asleep, are not able to sleep through the night, or if the lack of sleep effects your mood!
What should I do if I work at night or do rotating shifts?
Nightshifts and rotating shifts may disturb the healthy circadian rhythm: you may feel active at night and sleepy at the daytime.
Try to follow these tips, to reduce the health risks caused by lack of sleep:
- Find the time to sleep every day.
- If you work at night, rest at daytime instead of participating in activities.
- Ask your family not to disturb you in the daytime when you work at night.
- If possible, try to get some sleep before work.
- If it is possible, go to bed the same time every day.
- Your bedroom should be cool and free of noises.
- Remove phones, devices with lights and noises from your bedroom, use earplugs.
- Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, alcohol, and nicotine.