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Sleep – Why is Sleeping so Important?

Owl vs. lark – grumpy in the morning meets early risers

Night owl – that’s what some of my friends call me because I’m an evening and night active person. And it has always been like that. At least ever since I can remember. In the evening I get into top gear and in the morning I am rather grumpy. Especially in winter, I hardly come out of my cozy warm bed and need not only one coffee to be able to see anything through my tiny eyes. In the evening, on the other hand, I feel like a million dollars. It is not uncommon for me to enter the gym at 10pm and get my workout done.

At night, I have the peace that morning people probably enjoy in the morning. There is hardly a time of day I am more productive than at night: no new emails, no phone calls, no news. And at the same time I love to cuddle up in my bed and sleep. About 2/3 of the Germans are late chronobiological types and owls like me. Therefore, a later beginning of school is discussed again and again. Forced to get up early can severely limit performance. For me, there is hardly anything that degenerates so accurately in an illness as a phase in which I sleep little. May it be caused by stress to turn my sleep hours into working hours or by thoughts that will not make me fall asleep.

Especially now that my departure day for the long journey around the world is getting closer and still ten thousand things are on my to-do-list. Particularly when many things burden my soul, I don’t have enough time to get to deal with them in everyday life. Sometimes I pack my days full that I don’t get to even think about it. Then my thoughts catch me when I’m lying alone in bed. Nothing debilitates me as much as nights when I can not fall asleep and feel annoyed about it. But here I have become much calmer and deal with it differently.

Sleep disorders rob a lot of energy and thus quality of life

Sleep disorders are a heavy drain on our powers. They can have different causes. On the one hand, a deficiency of vitamin D and a general acidification of the body can lead to disturbed sleep. Plus, alcohol abuse can also degenerate into severe sleep disorders. In general, alcohol is a heavy burden on our detoxification organs. For example, I could set the clock when drinking red wine and fall asleep in no time. But then, sleep is not really relaxing because the liver and kidneys are working at their peak and our body does not really calm down.

Around 5 million Germans suffer from insomnia and sleep disorders, which should actually be treated, according to the German Sleep Society (DGSM). The need for sleep is genetically determined and thus individually different. Also factors such as age and gender play a role. Older people need less sleep than younger and women need up to half an hour more than men. Sleep disorders that require treatment are usually referred to as being restricted during the day at least three times a week due to bad sleep at night.

Also interesting is the difference between the need for sleep in the animal kingdom. Elephants rest on average only 2-4 hours a day. Horses get along well with 3 hours. On the other hand, cats sleep between 12 and 16 hours, sloths around 16-17 hours, and bats have 20 hours of rest!

According to surveys from the dating portal Parship and Statista, the absolute killers on the first night spend together for about 63% of women are loud snoring. Ugly pajamas scare about 16% away, stealing the blanket and pillow 15%, followed by sleepwalking with 13%. Men are more likely to tolerate an ugly pajama with 14%. 17% are reluctant to stealing blankets and pillows and 19% of the participants do not tolerate sleepwalking. Here, the absolute no-go is also snoring with 43%. For me as well, loud snoring would be an absolute love killer and unthinkable with my partner. Not to mention the health aspects associated with nocturnal snoring.

In the long run, a lack of sleep damages your health

Half an hour less sleep can damage your health in the long run. Sleep doctors such as Ingo Fietze, head of the Interdisciplinary Sleep Medicine Center at Charité in Berlin, recommend at least seven hours of sleep to stay healthy. Less than six hours of bed rest results in a 13 percent increased risk of premature death compared to people with seven hours bed rest. Only during sleep the most important repair mechanisms of our body can be active. Then, our body shuts down and self-healing mechanisms only then begin to work. Starting with the cleansing of our gastrointestinal tract, healing of internal wounds, containment of infections up to the processing of subconscious impressions of the day, countless programs take place at night. If we sleep too little or only badly, these processes can not be completed and we are generally more susceptible to diseases.

Plus, underestimated and partly completely forgotten are the serious dangers in traffic. A study by the German Institute of Aerospace Medicine states that almost every fifth accident can be attributed to fatigue. At night, it is even around 42 percent. Drivers who have fallen asleep behind the steering wheel are responsible for every sixth fatality!

A lack of sleep can increase both the risk of metabolic disorders, mental health problems and cardiovascular diseases. About twice as often, people with bad sleep also suffer from depression. The level of stress hormones can increase by two and a half times in chronic sleep deprivation. This also increases the blood sugar concentration, blood pressure and heart rate, which also raise the risks of stroke and heart attack. In addition, studies show that we are generally more sensitive to pain and more bad-tempered, if we are not well rested.

Lack of sleep as a risk factor for obesity

If we sleep too little, our body releases more of the hormone ghrelin than it usually would. Ghrelin is the Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and responsible for activating the “pleasure center” in the brain and thus for hunger signals and eating attacks. Plus, our body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol, which causes our body to draw more energy from carbohydrates and muscle mass than from stored fatty tissue. After only four nights of insomnia, our body produces one-third less insulin. But insulin is necessary to turn our food into energy. As a result, our body stores more fat than burning fat cells.

In contrast, during sleep the body produces the hormone leptin. Leptin is responsible for reducing appetite, signaling the body to increase fat burning and inhibit its storage. If we sleep less, less leptin will be produced. Studies show that people who are not well-rested take much larger portions and snacks that are twice as greasy than people with enough rest. Therefore, the daily intake of calories is also higher, which in turn promotes overweight.

Cuddly toys can provide a sense of security and thus have a calming effect, they also do not snore! ;)
Cuddly toys can provide a sense of security and thus have a calming effect, they also do not snore! 😉
Society considers people sleeping over-average as being lazy

Late risers are socially often frowned upon. Often I also put an alarm clock in the morning to be available at “normal working hours”. Even if I worked deep into the night. Getting up early is still regarded as virtuous in this country. Studies show that about half of all executives sleep less than six hours. One in three sleeps less than five hours to have more time to work. This chronic lack of sleep, also called “social jet lag”, can have serious consequences. And yet, the lack of effectiveness through fatigue is just a marginal phenomenon.

But more and more younger people suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. Above all, electronic media such as smartphones, films, series and chats make the nights shorter. A combination of blue light and overstimulation makes it harder for our body to calm down. Anything that stirs us up and makes us think in general should be avoided at bedtime.

How to solve sleep problems?

Of course, there are chemical drugs that are designed for insomnia. However, these only mitigate the symptoms and do not remedy the cause. Circling thoughts and turning problems over in your mind are usually the biggest problem with bad sleepers. If a solution to these causes is not in sight, relaxation and breathing techniques as well as sleep hygiene methods can help. According to a study from the year 2017, 62% of all respondents use music as a sleeping aid, among them classic music with 32%. Regular workouts, sports and general exercise are indispensable for a healthy sleep. Further, intermittent fasting can also have a very positive effect on sleep quality.

Plus, there are many herbal remedies that can help you fall asleep and rest. The best known remedy is probably valerian. But also hops, passionflower or lavender can cause an improvement. If valerian does not work for you, you should consider drinking a hops tea. In addition, the smell of essential oils such as Swiss pine wood has been shown to lower the pulse. Even total darkness can be very conducive to sleep. In other words, no glowing numbers on the alarm clock, thick curtains and closed shutters would be the ideal case here. Short rush airing before going to bed also promotes sleep hygiene and regulates the humidity at the same time. The recommended room temperature is between 16 and 18 degrees, but the comfort temperature is different for everyone. In the near future I will introduce you to further methods for better sleeping!

Why am I waking up in the morning, even though I’m still tired?

This is usually because external influences bring us out of a deep sleep phase, from which we would otherwise not have woken up. Normally, we would wake up by ourselves in a light sleep phase. In the morning, owls are in contrast to larks always a little crumpled – I can confirm from my own experience! 😉

Does a power nap affect my nightly sleep?

A small nap is usually then inserted, if we have a need for it. Through tiredness the body signals a need for sleep. As long as this sleep lasts no more than half an hour, we also do not come into the deep sleep phase and are therefore not drowsy when waking up. In general, power-naps can even positively influence the evening’s sleep, as our body can subconsciously process impressions that otherwise would have had to be processed in the evening. Nocturnal sleep disturbances can be reduced by about 15%! The American Sleep Foundation found that the risk of cardiovascular disease with three naps a week may drop by 40%! Since caffeine only works after 20 minutes, an espresso before the power nap helps waking up afterwards.

In addition, humans are one of the few creatures that sleep only once a day. Anyone who has pets, knows that repeated naps are the order of the day.

Why is it so hard for me to fall asleep at night?

We wake up to 28 times a night without noticing. As long as we are not angry that we have awakened, falling asleep should not be a problem. But if we are annoyed, stress hormones are produced that do not let us sleep any longer. When awake, hormones are produced to rouse us. Plus, an accelerated cycle makes it very difficult to fall asleep again.

Sleep deprivation is a well-known torture method

In fact, sleep deprivation is still practiced as a torture method. This alone indicates how severe long-term sleep deprivation can affect our psyche and general health. Sleep rituals can help us fall asleep more easily. Everyone reacts differently. In one of the following blog posts I will introduce you to effective methods that will make you sleep easier and hopefully better, too!

To stay up to date, here is my Facebook Fanpage – sharing is caring! I would be glad, if you accompany me a bit on my journey! 😉


Sources for this blogpost

Blanaru, M. et al. 2012: The effects of music relaxation and muscle relaxation techniques on sleep quality and emotional measures among individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder, in: Mental Illness, Vol. 4, 2012, No. 2.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4253375/

Burgess, H. J./Park, M./Wyatt, J. K./Rizvydeen, M./Fogg, L. F. 2017: Sleep and Circadian Variability in People with Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder versus Healthy Controls, in: Sleep Medicine, Vol. 34, 2017, pp. 33-39.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5514558/

Glos, M. et al. 2018: Characterization of Respiratory Events in Obstructive Sleep Apnea Using Suprasternal Pressure Monitoring, in: Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Vol. 14, 2018, No. 3, pp. 359-369.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5837837/

Parship-Umfrage 2017 von 4086 Mitgliedern zwischen 18 und 79 Jahren.
https://www.parship.de/presse/pressemeldungen/2017/parship-wissen-ein-schnarcher-kommt-singles-nicht-ins-bett/

Statista 2017: Schlafstudie Deutschland – So schlafen die Deutschen 2017.
https://de.statista.com/infografik/11864/so-schlaeft-deutschland/

Trahan, T./Durrant, S. J./Müllensiefen, D./Williamson, V. J. 2018: The music that helps people sleep and the reasons they believe it works: A mixed methods analysis of online survey reports, 2018.
https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0206531

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