Sleep is an absolute prerequisite for physical and mental wellness. Nevertheless, we often see sleep only as of secondary importance or as an annoying inevitability. Since every person spends a third of his life sleeping, one should not underestimate its importance. We start to become more aware of the importance of sleep when we start to have problems with it.
For a long time, sleep was regarded as an inactive state in which nothing is done to the body. It was previously seen as a special position between life and death. In ancient Greece, sleep and death were considered brothers, with death seen as the perfect sleep. Only during the Roman Empire was it first recognized that sleep is controlled by the brain. Therefore the Romans thought that sleep was essential for the regeneration of the brain. It was only once we could perform brain scans that we found out that sleep is a very dynamic process with alternating recurring phases.
The brain completes complex processes, but other individual organ systems also change during the sleep phases. In addition, the brain controls the distribution of individual hormones, while it holds others back.
There are many theories regarding why people need sleep. Some think that the purpose of sleep is for energy conservation, or for the regeneration of the organs. Others think that sleep is for the processing of the information recorded during the day. Despite all these theories, there is still no real explanation as to why we need sleep.
The importance of regular and long enough sleep stages can be seen most dramatically when sleep problems occur. First, lack of sleep leads to a reduced quality of life. This can reduce efficiency by up to 70 percent. Longer sleep disturbances often cause diseases. In very extreme cases, disrupted sleep can even lead to death.
Insomnia has many causes and is also not so rare. About a quarter of people in Central Europe suffer from insomnia. Additionally, approximately 10 percent of the population struggles with chronic disorders that last longer than three months. There are many reasons for why sleep disorders are so prevalent. Physical causes such as pain disorders or external circumstances such as shift work may also be a reason for sleep disorders. Sleep disorders can also be caused by stress, difficulties or mental illness.
You may not need to go to the doctor if you are experiencing sleep problems. As a rule of thumb, go to the doctor if you cannot fall asleep three times a week or do not sleep soundly, if you always wake up very early if you are constantly tired. Then you may need professional advice.
In many other cases, short-term sleep disturbances caused by jet lag or environmental influences like light make for poor sleep. In such cases, there are a few tricks to use that can help you sleep through the night:
Often, it helps to question why you cannot fall asleep. Sleep circumstances are the keywords. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, the TV isn't on, and that the room is dark enough.
Abstain from stimulating drinks. Alcohol should also be avoided. The latter does make you sleepy but also disturbs sleep. Nicotine and caffeine should also be avoided in the evening. Also, do not overeat before bed. With a full stomach, it is hard to sleep well.
Evening rituals that prepare the body for rest can work wonders. Going to bed at the same time every day and waking up at the same time help you establish a sleep pattern.
Do not do sports just before going to sleep. Strenuous physical activity stimulates the circulation and makes you feel more awake. Sports are excellent for reducing stress but should be abandoned in the later evening hours. The same is true for mentally strenuous activities. It's better not to mull over problems or think about exciting things! That can make it very hard to fall asleep.
Essential oils can help. There are certain oils and mixtures which have a particularly relaxing effect and thus make it easier to fall asleep. (Selected aromatherapy products can also be found here.)