How did you feel when you woke up this morning? Fit and full of energy? Looking forward to the day? Or did you secretly want to roll over and curl back up in your warm bed? If the answer to that last question is yes, you are not alone. No fewer than 63% of all (Dutch) people would like to improve the quality of their sleep.
Sleep and health
Sleep is essential for physical recovery, ordering your mind and processing emotions. If you don’t get enough sleep, this has an effect on all kinds of physical processes. What happens in your body when you don’t get enough sleep?
If you routinely sleep fewer than six or seven hours a night, your immune system deteriorates and your risk of cancer doubles. You disrupt your blood sugar levels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Lack of sleep also contributes to the development of anxiety and depression and largely determines the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Do you also notice that you want to eat more when you are tired? Too little sleep increases the concentration of ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry, and suppresses the hormone leptin, which makes you feel satiated. Sleeping well is the basis for maintaining a healthy weight. The better you sleep, the greater the chance of a healthy, disease-free life.
How does sleep work?
Everyone has an internal biological clock, poetically named the ‘circadian rhythm’. This determines our sleep-wake cycle. External influences can disrupt your biological clock, such as too much (blue) light in the evening, caffeine, stress, too little daylight, jet lag and some medications. These influences disrupt the production of melatonin, the hormone that signals to our body that it’s time to sleep. Melatonin is normally produced two to three hours before sleep.
Stress and sleep
Stress affects your sleep because it releases the hormone cortisol into your system. During the day, cortisol ensures awareness and alertness. You need cortisol to perform well but it’s not so useful when you want to sleep. When your cortisol levels drop after a day of work or study, your body knows it’s safe to go to sleep and produces melatonin (the sleep hormone). If there is too much cortisol in your blood (e.g. because you have been working in the evening), your body does not produce enough melatonin to enable you to sleep properly.
Sports and sleep
Intensive physical activity just before going to sleep is also physically stimulating. It triggers bodily processes which should be reduced during sleep. The general recommendation is that you should exercise a lot, but not within 3 hours before going to bed.
Alcohol and sleep
A drink to relax or help you get to sleep after a busy day might seem like a great idea, but make no mistake – alcohol has a major impact on the quality of your sleep. It means your liver has to work hard during the night to break down all the toxins, so you wake up less rested. You also sleep less deeply and less well.
The same applies to eating a heavy meal in the evening. This causes your metabolism to speed up, raising your body temperature and making you feel less sleepy. It also increases the chance that you will wake up at night.
6 Tips for better sleep
1. Make sure you get enough rest during the day
“Your night is a reflection of your day. Try to plan sufficient rest moments during the day. Don’t put off moments of relaxation until you can finally sleep. It’s not always a good idea to exhaust yourself during the day in order to ensure an immediate and deep sleep.”
2. Ensure good sleep hygiene
“Make sure you have a good bed where you are comfortable in a quiet and tidy environment. Create a dark, well-ventilated bedroom for yourself that has a pleasant smell. We sleep best when the temperature is below 18 degrees, so don’t use thick blankets and turn off the heating.”
3. Make sure you get plenty of natural daylight during the day and plenty of exercise
“Exercise positively influences the release of the sleep hormone melatonin and thus improves your sleep-wake rhythm. Exercise also has a positive influence on mental health, ensuring a better mood and less stress. And thus a greater chance of a good night’s sleep.”
4. Limit screen time and follow calming rituals before you go to bed
“Avoid all blue-light (tablet, phone, laptop and TV) at least two hours before you go to bed.The bedroom is for rest, sleep and sex. Making love releases serotonin and oxytocin, the happiness hormones that bring positive thoughts and relaxation”.
5. Meditate or do a breathing exercise
“Meditation and breathing exercises are a beautiful and effective way to unwind before bed. You immediately calm your nervous system and your brain, your stress level goes down and you become deeply relaxed. It’s great to do this just before going to bed. Try the following exercise:”
A) Lie down quietly with your hands on your belly. Gradually slow your breathing while staying relaxed. If this feels good, try breathing in through your nose (without pressure) and breathing out through your mouth. Release your breathing gently, allowing your shoulders to relax. Do this for five minutes and experience the effect. Generally, the exercise will work better if you keep your eyes closed.
B) In addition, you can try to breathe more from your abdomen so you make better use of your lung capacity. With every inhalation your belly rises slightly and with every exhalation, your belly sinks in again. When this happens smoothly, try doing the same exercise as above, but breathe in and out through your nose. How does it feel?
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6. Limit caffeine and alcohol (preferably avoid alcohol completely)
“Drink a maximum of two cups of coffee or other caffeinated drinks per day, and only in the morning. Caffeine keeps your body awake and is found not only in coffee, but also in certain teas, chocolate, cola and energy drinks. Limit your alcohol intake (and preferably drink no alcohol at all). Even one glass of alcohol has a negative effect on the quality of your sleep. It makes you sleep less deeply and prevents you from entering your restorative sleep phase”.
Do you have questions about your personal situation or would you like to know more about improving your sleep? We are happy to help. Book a session with one of our doctors.