Sleep is necessary for our health and survival. Both the body and the brain need sleep to recuperate and restore themselves. The body requires rest after a day´s activities and the fact is that several of the body´s functions need sleep in order to be able to work properly. The brain needs to process all the input it has received during the day.
When one sleeps one goes through different cycles. First is the drowsy onset of sleep which is followed by a light sleep, after which the body enters into a deep sleep and finally experiences REM sleep (the dream stage). When the body has gone through all the different stages it starts over again.
What influences sleep?
There are two prominent factors, according to the two-process model, that influence your ability to fall asleep. One is the time of day you are trying to go to sleep and the other is how long you have been awake. The body has a sleep hormone which regulates the body´s cycle of sleep and wakefulness. This hormone is influenced by light, if you are surrounded by daylight, you will feel less tired than if surrounded by darkness. The sleep hormone works best if you are exposed to contrasts of light and darkness. In order for the body and brain to thrive, a human being usually needs between six and nine hours of sleep per day.
Factors that disturb sleep
Stress also has a physical impact which makes it very difficult to experience deep sleep. Stress also interrupts our sleep patterns as we cannot leave our thoughts from the day behind when we fall asleep.
The effect of alcohol is that you first fall into a deep sleep, but after a few hours this sleep becomes shallow and uneasy. Later, as the alcohol leaves the body, your sleep is once more interrupted.
Drinking Coca-Cola, coffee or tea just before going to bed may make it more difficult to fall asleep. In addition, since caffeine is a diuretic it could mean having to get up during the night to go to the bathroom.
Fretting over the events of the day or worrying about tasks for the following day can cause sleeplessness. Relaxation exercises and going for a walk are examples of possible solutions.
When the body does not get sufficient physical activity, the muscles become tense and stiff, leading to problems falling asleep as the body cannot relax properly.
Tips to improve your sleeping habits
Sleeping problems should be taken seriously. If the problems become too severe, you should always contact a medical practitioner, but in certain situations you could try to do something about it yourself. The following are some tips you can try to improve your sleeping habits.
24-hour cycle (circadian regulation)
Try to adapt your life to a good 24-hour cycle. For example, it is an excellent idea to set your alarm clock to go off at approximately the same time every morning. Remember that light influences the body´s sleep hormone and take advantage of this by trying to be in the daylight some time every day and avoid light at night, for example if it is necessary to go to the bathroom.
Need for sleep
Use your body´s built-in sleep regulator. Regular exercise helps. Remember to avoid taking too long naps or staying in bed too long after having had your usual sleep.
Avoid having dinner just before going to bed. If you eat too close to your bedtime, your stomach will be forced to work during the night to digest the meal.
Keep it cool
Try to keep the temperature in your bedroom cool at night. We tend to sleep more soundly in a cool room.
Before going to bed at night, try to wind down and allow the brain and body time to adjust and prepare for the night´s rest.