Don’t you just love mornings you feel rested. You’ve slept a whole night without waking up, dreamt about beautiful things and started the day with a good feeling? Well.. Sure I do. But unfortunately that doesn’t happen so often. When I started my research on this topic, one of the first things I read was that there are 80 kinds of sleep problems. 80!! (don’t worry, I won’t list them all. That would be crazy). It’s unbelievable. But then again, waking up to go to the bathroom every night is a ‘sleep problem’ too, so I think the selection wasn’t that strict.
But when do we have a good night sleep? First of all ‘the longer you sleep, the less exhausted you’ll be’ isn’t entirely true. Adults do need 7 to 8 hours a sleep a night, but sleeping 10 hours won’t make you less tired, it simply means that you didn’t sleep as soundly as you should’ve. Other factors that define whether you had a good night are falling asleep rather easy, don’t wake up during the night, not having bad dreams and running through the different sleeping phases (I explain these later on). Many people think they don’t have any influence on their night rest, but that’s not entirely true. There are many things you can do to help your body and mind sleep well.
How sleeping works (or what scientists know)
There are a lot of scientists who try to analyse and explain our off-the-world-moments, but because our brain still has so many neurological secrets, they don’t fully understand what happens when we fall asleep. This is in short what they do know: sleep happens in five different phases. These phases are repeated five to six times every (good) night. The circle even lengthens when the night progresses. This also means that the REM sleep, the phase wherein most dreams appear, also extends.
phase 1 | transition between wakefulness and sleep. This is a very short phase of three to five minutes. What happens is that our muscles relax and our body temperature drops. This is also the phase wherein you might feel a shock, a short exertion of your muscles or you’re falling. I am an expert at these shocks. Every night I get these exertions and practically every time they wake me again. It’s like my body is teasing me. ‘Naha, you’re not sleeping just yet missy!’
phase 2 | deeper sleep. The second phase is deeper than the first and takes about thirty to forty minutes. It’s nearly 50% of your total sleep time per night. You can see it as the beginning of the ‘real’ sleep wherein you won’t wake up from every sound anymore.
phase 3 and 4 | very deep sleep. These two phases are normally seen as one because it’s all part of a very deep sleep. You’re completely relaxed and it’s very hard to wake you up. You breathe deep and your heart beats calm and steady. The first time you get in these phases, it takes very long. But the more they appear, the less time they take. The importance of this period is that growth hormones are released and your body recovers and strengthens.
phase 5 | REM-sleep or Rapid Eye Movement sleep or dreamsleep. The large muscles of your limbs are paralyzed. That’s a good thing, by the way. Otherwise you might get out of bed and actually do the things you’re dreaming. It’s a period of your sleep wherein your brain is very active. I would love to tell you why, but even the scientists don’t really know this for sure. They think it has to do with processing information. The longer you sleep, the longer the dreamscape gets. It takes about 20 to 25% of your total sleep.
Why would you mind your sleep?
Simple answer given bij the US National heart, lung and blood Institute: ‘sleep can affect how well you think, work, react, learn and even get along with others.’ It’s as easy as that. In the short term you can have a car crash for example (I’m sorry, that’s a very negative example. But it’s true though). In the long term ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for chronic health problems.
9 facts about sleeping
1 | after a qualitative night rest, you feel happier, more energetic and above all more alert
2 | your productivity increases which means your tasks will be done faster and better
3 | good sleepers have less chances for too high cholesterol levels, breast and colon cancer, a heart attack, depression and diabetes
4 | the number of hours you have to sleep depends on your age and differs from person to person. Grown-ups (older than 18 years) need seven to eight hours a night. Another thing to remember is that you can’t take the average. What I mean is that if you’ve slept for only three hours, sleeping 11 hours the next night won’t make you fully rested. Catching up some sleep takes more than one night. (disappointing, right?)
5 | 25% of the teenagers and young adults suffer from junk sleep. This means that they’ve watched a screen for too long, thereby they don’t get in their REM stadium and won’t sleep as deep as necessary.
6 | dreams stimulate your creativity and ability for problem solving
7 | the better you sleep, the more you’ll be in your REM stadium. It’s not only the time of the night you have your dreams, it also saves your memories of the past day.
8 | unfortunately you can’t control your sleep quality all by yourself. Your surroundings also have a big impact. The more sound and light there is while you’re asleep, the less deeper you’ll sleep. So try to eliminate as much sounds and light as possible.
9 | last but definitely not least: good sleepers live on average longer. They don’t get sick as easily because they give their body the chance to recover.
11 tips for a better night rest
Now that we know more about our nights, we can start improving them. With some help from the WASM (World Association for Sleep Medicine), I’ve created a list with 11 tips to boost your sleep quality.
1 | CHOSE A FIXED HOUR: a morning and evening routine are a good start or end of your day, it makes them pass very smoothly. (you find info on creating a morning or evening routine here). Getting up and going to bed on the same hour provides a stable body clock. Result: your body gets used to these hours and will prepare itself for the day or the night.
2 | DON’T NAP LONGER THAN 45 MINUTES DURING THE DAY: try to sleep at night. But if you really need your daytime nap, you better do it before 3pm and never longer than 45 minutes. Why? The more you sleep in the day, the less you’ll sleep at night.
3 | NO ALCOHOL AND CAFFEINE BEFORE YOU GO TO BED: sorry people. As it may be a comfort, drinking some wine or beer during the movies or on your night out, won’t really do much harm. But remember your sleep quality won’t be as good. You might fall asleep faster, but you definitely won’t sleep better.
4 | MAKE IT EXTRA FUN: how about nice and clean sheets, some music and a good book? Sounds great, doesn’t it. An extra benefit is that it’s all good for your sleep. It relaxes you and prepares your body for the night rest. Just do whatever it is that relaxes you.
5 | DON’T EAT SPICY, SUGARY OR HEAVY FOOD: your body will have to put a lot of energy in your digestion, that your body won’t have much time left to fully rest. If you do get the munchies, experts give the advise to eat as light as possible.
6 | EXERCISE REGULARLY: I know, I know. Exercising is mostly very intense. The point is not to do it right before you go to bed. For the best result on your sleep quality, you should exercise in the morning or early afternoon.
7 | MAINTAIN THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE: when there’s a nice temperature in your bedroom, your body won’t have to put energy in warming up or cooling down. That’s the reason why you should find the temperature you like the most and therefore sleep better.
8 | VENTILATE YOUR ROOM: start the day with letting in some air and light. Your body will see this as the signal for the start of the day. On top of that, some fresh air is healthy. Only advantages!
9 | EXCLUDE AS MUCH LIGHT AND NOISE AS POSSIBLE: falling asleep and staying asleep works best with no light or noise. But that’s easier said than done. When you’re living in a city or don’t have blinds, you can hang some thick curtains who’ll exclude a bit more light and noise.
10 | KEEP YOUR BED FOR SEX AND SLEEP: working where you sleep isn’t good for your sleep quality or your work productivity. That’s why it is important to associate your bed with rest, peace and sleep in stead of work and stress. Your bed should be that little spot in house where you’re carefree.
11 | USE NICE AND CLEAN BEDDINGS: try to clean and refresh your beddings once a week and make sure your mattress gives enough support. It might seem unnecessary but hygienic sheets and good support will only benefit your sleep quality.
a final tip: some yoga will do the relaxing job. Here’s a wonderful infographic from Health Persch, a very inspiring website on health (duh!).