What is good sleep?
This was the question posed by US researchers from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), hoping to finally find positive answers. Up until this point, focus had only ever been set on the negative consequences of poor sleep. 277 studies were evaluated, from which 4 criteria emerged.
People who sleep well
- fall asleep within 30 minutes
- don’t wake up more than once during the night
- after having woken once, fall asleep again after 20 minutes at the latest
- spend at least 85% of the time in bed asleep
But this is the stuff of dreams for many people: almost one in three Swiss people report occasional difficulties falling asleep and/or often lie awake. For up to 20% of the population, these problems are chronic.
Causes of problems falling asleep
The reasons are many and include noise, disturbing light, stress and brooding, and even diseases such as restless legs or sleep apnoea (nocturnal breathing pauses). Experts also talk of «learned sleep disorder»: take the example of a student who, even once the exams are over, will continue to worry about not being able to relax and fall asleep.
Sleep hygiene: tips for falling asleep
According to the KSM Clinic for Sleep Medicine, sleep hygiene includes the following rules
- Have a sleeping routine: if possible, always get up and go to bed at the same time, even at weekends.
- Create buffer zones: don’t work or have strenuous conversations before going to bed, but wind down slowly. Also, introduce a one-hour screen break before going to sleep, as the blue light has a negative influence on sleep.
- Get up rather than lying awake: instead of tossing and turning in bed, get up and do something soothing, like browsing through picture books.
- Avoid looking at the alarm clock: don't look at the alarm clock all the time. This can trigger negative thoughts («Another night I can forget») and completely deprive you of sleep.
- Daylight in the morning: if possible, expose yourself to daylight for half an hour in the morning, as this reinforces the sleeping-waking routine.
The importance of sleep phases
Doctors know today that we only regenerate physically and mentally if we experience all the different sleep phases during the night – our «sleep architecture» must be intact. If we miss any deep or dream phases, even long sleep cannot provide us with proper rest.
Less deep sleep with age
However: the older a person is, the more superficial and more prone to disturbance their night's rest becomes. In other words, they experience fewer deep sleep phases. But as long as they feel fit the next day, there is no cause for concern. The US-based criteria should therefore be viewed as indicative.
When to see a doctor?
Sleep disorders can be troublesome and nerve-racking. If problems falling asleep persist for longer than a month and at least three times a week, it’s advisable to see a doctor. This is especially true if you're suffering badly and are drowsy and unable to work properly during the day. If this isn’t the case, then simple rules and rituals – known as sleep hygiene – are often enough to solve the problem.