With the explosion of new technologies and the numerous changes in work rhythms, our sleep is put to the test. A pillar of our well-being, it is nevertheless essential to our physical and mental health. Quality sleep allows us to stock up on energy and thus allows the body to recover, whether physically or mentally. Sleep has been shown to be crucial for many biological functions. Lack of sleep can influence our mental health and impact our energy levels and motivation, decreasing our ability to cope with stress.
How does it work ?
Sleep is not fixed and varies throughout the night. However, it is always structured in phases common to everyone. In fact, it corresponds to a succession of 3 to 6 cycles, of 60 to 120 minutes each. A cycle itself is made up of an alternation of deep slow-wave sleep, a phase during which we recover the most from accumulated fatigue, and paradoxical sleep, a dream phase.
Sleep also varies throughout life depending on age. Slow-wave sleep is deeper as a child grows and becomes lighter as he gets older. In addition, REM sleep is longer in the first years of life and decreases in adulthood.
It may take longer to fall asleep, and more and more nighttime awakenings may occur. Thus, aging could increase the frequency of sleep disorders.
It is important to note that the quantity and quality of sleep needed varies greatly from person to person. Indeed, the environment, hygiene and pace of life play a role in the ability to sleep and recover well during a night's sleep.
Circadian rhythms, or the body's biological rhythms, are regulated by the body itself. Indeed, the pineal gland, a gland located in the center of the brain, secretes melatonin, called the sleep hormone, which releases other hormones depending on the time of day or night. It is released into the brain in the dark and causes the need to sleep. It occurs mainly during the falling asleep phase and reaches its maximum level at 2 a.m. Please note that its production decreases when the retina is exposed to light, so when we watch in front of a screen for example.
You should also know that its production decreases with age, which may explain the increase in the frequency of appearance of sleep disorders.
Sleep has been shown to help with more than just recovery. Indeed, its role would be particularly important for general health. Poor quality and quantity of sleep increases the risk of irritability, depressive symptoms, memory loss, but also weight gain, hypertension or infection.
It has a proven role in the phenomena of concentration, learning, memorization and orientation. Sleep prepares the brain to learn and encode new information, then it will consolidate this learning into a stable and lasting memory.
On the other hand, it would help regulate our metabolism. Indeed, ghrelin, a hormone secreted during the day, stimulates the appetite while leptin, a satiety hormone secreted during sleep, inhibits it. A sleep deficit alters the regulatory mechanisms of these hormones (increase in ghrelin and decrease in leptin). The body loses the feeling of satiety and feels more hungry, which leads to weight gain.
Finally, quality sleep allows us to better resist infections by boosting our immune system. Sleep deprivation causes the number of immune cells to be altered.
In France, 1 in 3 people are affected by sleep disorders, whether it is difficulty falling asleep, waking up multiple times during the night, waking up early in the morning or even feeling unrefreshing sleep. These are problems with the quality and/or quantity of sleep. There are many causes behind these problems. Stress and anxiety remain the main culprits.
The environment and certain lifestyle habits can have repercussions on sleep:
- Stressful working conditions: staggered or night shifts, travel, work overload
- Physical activity exercised wrongly: activity that is not regular, of high intensity and practiced at the end of the day
- Environment not conducive to a good night's sleep: poor bedding, ambient temperature too high, dryness of the ambient air, noise, light
- Foods and drinks not recommended consumed at the end of the day: stimulants (coffee, alcohol, tobacco), foods high in fat, spicy dishes
These disorders cause symptoms that are difficult to manage during the day, such as irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating and remembering.
How to fall asleep naturally?
To improve your sleep, there is more than medication. Indeed, there are natural remedies that can help us relax, relieve daily tensions and better synchronize our circadian rhythm. Try to establish a bedtime routine by applying several of our tips every evening 2 hours before going to sleep. Each step of this routine seems essential to promote the quality and quantity of sleep.
Lifestyle has a lot of influence on sleep. Practicing physical exercises during the day allows you to expend your physical energy, free yourself from negative thoughts and thus sleep better in the evening. Yoga, for example, allows you to exercise while working on your mind and relaxation. It acts on mental relaxation and emotional letting go, on muscle relaxation, and on back relaxation by eliminating tension for better quality sleep.
It is best not to eat dinner too late, about 2 hours before going to bed, because digestion increases body temperature which can interfere with sleep.
It is also advisable not to eat too heavy or too fatty meals at evening meal as this could disrupt the action of orexin which is one of the hormones stimulating our appetite and our alertness. Fatty and difficult-to-digest foods tend to fragment sleep.
Be careful, eating too light is often the cause of nighttime cravings. We must not forget that our body also needs energy at night. Consumption of starchy foods at dinner provides slow sugars to the body and thus facilitates the production of serotonin, a hormone essential for the secretion of melatonin.
You can also turn to foods rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that helps synthesize serotonin in the brain. Indeed, our body is incapable of producing its own tryptophan. It is therefore essential to provide it through food. It is found in many foods such as: banana, eggs, nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, dairy products, oats, soy, corn, rye, sesame, rice, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, dried beans, meat and fish.
Herbal teas have a role to play in falling asleep. The heat of the drink causes a reduction in internal temperature, which cools the entire body and promotes drowsiness. In addition, certain plants such as valerian, passionflower or verbena have relaxing properties. Herbal teas therefore have a double advantage: the soothing properties of plants and the “ritual” effect recognized by the brain.
It is obviously necessary to limit caffeine intake, a stimulant which can harm the quality of sleep. It is found in coffee and tea, but also in chocolate and energy drinks.
Body temperature is involved in the regulation of the circadian cycle: the temperature cycle directs the sleep cycle. The reduction in body temperature occurs about an hour before the usual sleep time and towards the end of the night it rises, acting as a wake-up signal.
Heat stimulates the body's thermoregulatory system, which causes a drop in the body's core temperature. So, taking a hot shower or a hot bath one to two hours before going to bed promotes the natural circadian process and can help you fall asleep.
Several essential oils are known to have soothing properties due to their composition. Chamomile essential oil is ideal in cases of excitement, fixed or dark ideas that prevent you from falling asleep. It has calming and relaxing properties which make it an ally for calming anxiety and falling asleep. Lavender essential oil improves both the quality and quantity of sleep and the time it takes to fall asleep while reducing anxiety.
To benefit from the benefits of these essential oils, you can diffuse them in your room, put 2 drops on your pillow, or add them to a vegetable oil and massage the solar plexus or wrist with the mixture 30 minutes before go to bed.
It is advisable to avoid screens, whether television, smartphone, computer or tablet, at least one hour before going to bed. Indeed, melatonin is very sensitive to light. This is why it is not produced during the day and its production only begins when it begins to get dark. Thus, blue light emitted by screens is increasingly implicated in sleep problems.
A quality mattress is linked to good comfort and of course seems essential to the quality of sleep. It allows you to find the right balance and adopt a natural and comfortable position. There are also many ways to snuggle up in the arms of Morpheus. We often wonder what the ideal position is. The supine position is considered the best sleeping position by doctors because it promotes breathing and keeps the back, neck, joints and muscles in good shape. On the contrary, sleeping on your stomach is a very bad position according to some specialists because it hinders breathing, digestion, and creates tension in the lumbar, thoracic and cervical regions, often leading to pain and headaches.
It can also help you get back to sleep without associated side effects or dependence. The active ingredients often found are magnesium, melatonin and certain plants. Indeed, magnesium is important for the normal functioning of the nervous system. It could reduce insomnia, improve the quantity and quality of sleep and allow us to fall asleep more quickly. Sleep herbs, such as hops, passionflower, valerian and griffonia can also have beneficial effects on our sleep by allowing relaxation before bed.