Difficulties sleeping and falling asleep are very frequent in modern times full of stress. Good and quality sleep is not to be underestimated; it is a very important life process for regeneration of our mental and physical strength. During the process, movement activity is limited, muscle tension in the body relaxes and reactivity to the surroundings is muted. There are also changes in the brain activity. It is an inhibitory-relaxing stage of our body.
What Happens During Sleep?
Our breath slows down, our bodily temperature and blood pressure decreases. Our brain keeps working even during sleep, we have dreams in which we sum up and sort out our thoughts and experiences from the previous day as well as topics currently important to us. Sleep of most people (same as sleep of most other mammals) is designed for the dark parts of the day. In our childhood and adolescence, we need more sleep, but in an adult person, the amount of sleep becomes stable at seven to eight hours of sleep a day, in average. When we don't have enough sleep, all functions of our body deteriorate. If we sleep five hours a day or less most of the time, we are toying with our health.
During sleep of humans and other mammals, two sleep stages alternate. They are REM and NREM stages. The REM (Rapid eye movement) stage is characterized by rapid eye movements behind the closed lids. During this sleep stage, we dream and REM is mainly for mental regeneration, relaxation and renewing mental functions and strength. In the NREM sleep stage (non-rapid eye movement), there are no such movements. This stage is further divided into other stages, depending on the sleep depth and serves mainly for relaxation of the body and muscles. These two sleep stages alternate throughout the process of sleep in cycles.
Healthy Sleep Hygiene
Sleep is underrated at our hurried time; it happens to us that we sleep less in order to catch up with other obligations or leisure activities. But healthy sleep is very important and irreplaceable for our organism and for its overall regeneration and full health. During sleep, we renew our nervous system and our mental stamina.
There are several key principles of sleep hygiene. If you maintain them, you prevent difficulties that you may encounter in case you don't have enough passive rest.
- Learn to get up and go to sleep at more or less the same time everyday. Fickle biorhythm causes difficulties. If your life rhythm doesn't allow you to get up and go to sleep at the same time, try to stick to the remaining recommendations.
- If you have a job where mental concentration prevails and consequently mental fatigue and exhaustion follow, exercise and move sufficiently. Let your body enjoy some physical fatigue and you will fall asleep more easily. Moreover, movement helps shake off stress experience during the work day, so the stress will not burden you before sleep. However, never exercise directly before going to bed. It is suitable to take a walk during the day, for example. Enjoy at least a short while with some fresh air and your subsequent sleep and overall rest will increase in quality.
- Before going to bed, air out your bedroom well. People also sleep better in a room that is a couple degrees cooler than the rest of the house.
- The room where you sleep should be dark. You should best have curtains in your bedroom that keep the light away and that you can close for the night. The hormone melatonin which makes us fall asleep better is released in the dark. Melatonin is an important sleep regulator. A healthy body produces its own melatonin in the brain, in the pineal gland. Melatonin level usually increases in the evening when we are used to falling asleep. Insufficient production of melatonin may lead to sleep disorders, and it often does.
- Let your bed be a place for relaxation only. Never eat in it, work in it or watch TV in it.
- Before sleep, refrain from alcohol, coffee, cigarettes and heavy foods.
Quality Sleep Is Important for Our Health
During sleep, cells regenerate and so does our entire body. Information we gather during the day gets inserted into our memory. This is very important for learning. Quality sleep is irreplaceable. People who maintain regular sleep rhythm are more balanced, perceptive and more powerful. The state of our immune system is also related to regular and quality sleep.
Sleep deprivation is a term indicating lack of sleep. A person may self-inflict this condition, but it is also a form of torture when a person is denied sleep in order to be forced to cooperate. We may self-inflict sleep deprivation e.g. by working or reading or watching television very late at night.
If we lack opportunities for a good-night's sleep in a long-term perspective, there is a threat of trouble to our mental and physical health. Without sufficient sleep, we become lethargic and we have difficulties concentrating and paying attention. There are depressions, sometimes even hallucinations and paranoia. Physical symptoms of insufficient rest and sleep include hand tremor, difficulties expressing oneself, disorientation. After seventeen hours without sleep, human body acts similarly as if it had half per mille of alcohol in blood. An average healthy person can go without sleep for eight or ten days; however, this is followed by severe fatigue and exhaustion.
Difficulty Falling Asleep
We all know it: after a hard day, we lay into bed and the sleep doesn't come. The body is tired, but unable to fall asleep for some reason. When such a situation repeats more often, it is very unpleasant. But what to do? The fact that we are unable to fall asleep peacefully may have a wide range of causes. Usually, they involve stress after the all-day hassle at school or at work. It can also be due to anxieties and worries about the next day. The first aid and advice in such a case is: try to relax a little and make time also for activities that make you happy and help you relax. The afternoon siesta and even a short nap may help you through your hard days; however, if you suffer from difficulties sleeping for a long time, refrain from afternoon naps. The night sleep is more natural for the body.
How May Sleep Pills Influence Our Psyche
According to the latest studies, up to 50% of adult population suffer from sleep disorders. Almost 20% out of them solve these problems by pharmacological treatment. We should know that most sleep pharmaceuticals are addictive. This addiction is usually not easy to shake.
People often use hypnotics excessively. It is the oldest generation of sleep pills. The initial doses of hypnotics will stop being sufficient and so the troubled sleeper eventually increases the dose. However, insomnia strikes after getting off these sleep pills which is even worse than the previous one. In case of a deeper addiction on hypnotics, anxieties, tension, blood pressure problems and heart palpitations occur.
They accelerate and facilitate the process of falling asleep, they reduce the number of night awakenings and prolong the time of sleep. However, their application may make men feel inhibited also during the day.
Z- Generation of Sleep Pills
It is a group of medicinal drugs that are supposed to reduce the occurrence of side effects.
Preparations containing substances analogous to this sleep hormone represent a great hope for people suffering from some sleep disorders. Melatonin does not usually have the inhibitory effects and does not induce feelings of semi-wakefulness during the day. Unlike the aforementioned older drugs, it is not addictive, and since it is a natural substance to our body, it is tolerated very well.
Herbs for Better Sleep
Herb teas and agents may not take effect immediately, that is why it is good to use them several days in row. Chamomile tea is advisable, as well as capsules or pills containing valerian, or lavender aromatherapy.
One of the herbs that are often made into extracts to help people sleep is valerian. This plant has been used in treatment of sleep difficulties in folk healing since the time immemorial. Valerian (Valerianaofficinalis in Latin) is a perennial plant growing up to 1.5 m in height. Its blossoms are white to pale pink. It grows in Europe. Valerian soothes and relaxes us, it relaxes muscle tension and irritation and has an overall calming effect on the nervous system. It acts against insomnia, overworkedness or migraine and induces pleasant balance. However, we need to consider that its calming effects may slow down your reactions.
This plant is calming and that is why it is contained in many preparations against stress, nervousness and sleep disorders. It is applied in the form of teas, essential oils or pills. It is also suitable for stress and tension relaxation.
Hypericum tea is recommended in insomnia and difficulties falling asleep. It is also suitable when coping with anxieties and excessive stress.
It is not only a key ingredient in beer production, but we can also use it for tea which has many beneficial healing effects. Hop has been used to treat sleep difficulties for ages, e.g. it was used as pillow stuffing in order to induce sleep. It was also recommended as a mild sedative. It relaxes tension, nervous irritation and it is also very good for our digestion.
Summary - Tips for Your Good and Quality Sleep
- Maintain a regular rhythm of falling asleep and waking up
- Relax before going to bed
- Create a pleasant sleeping environment; make it sufficiently calm, dark, cool and with enough fresh air
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and enjoy quality and clean bedsheets.
- Do not make your bedroom your office or your dining room as well.
- Sleep long enough
- Do not watch television directly before going to sleep
- Before going to sleep, refrain from alcohol, smoking and heavy or spicy foods.