How to improve it and what affects it?

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Sleep plays an irreplaceable role in our lives. Good, quality sleep positively affects our physical as well as mental state. And how long should it be? How can we fall asleep faster and improve the quality of sleep?

Why is sleep important?

The importance of sleep for the human body is massive. It restores and regenerates the brain’s ability to work, adjusts how your immune, nervous and hormonal systems function, and helps the body regenerate. All this is possible because our metabolism drops by up to 25% during sleep. Our bodies consume less glucose and oxygen, which also slows down our hearts.

From an athletic perspective, it is obvious that good sleep greatly helps us regenerate damaged tissues and build new muscles. The lowered metabolism also allows the body to create and store energy which we can use in the following days, especially during training.

Stages of sleep

Sleep is divided into

  • REM (rapid eye movement) and
  • Non-REM(non-rapid eye movement) stages.

During the REM stage, your mental activity is almost the same as when the body is awake, you have vivid dreams, and your muscles relax. In the Non-REM stage, there’s a drop in your mental activity. The REM stage gets shorter with age. With new born babies, the REM stage can make up for around 50% of the total time of sleep, whereas with adults it is only around 20%. The REM stage is the most important in determining quality of sleep.

A smart watch can help you measure the quality and stages of your sleep.

How to improve sleep quality

You’ve heard people claim that ideally we should all be sleeping for eight hours. Well, that’s not entirely true. Sleep needs can vary greatly: some people get what they need from five hours, while others need even more than eight. What is important is that you try to sleep between 10 pm and 2 am. 

Troubles with sleep are usually caused by people going to bed and getting up at irregular times. Work and duties permitting, try to go to bed and especially get up at the same time every day. This way, you’ll get used to a regular sleep rhythm and your body will be better prepared for sleep. Sleeping in on the weekends is a very frequent mistake. If you get up at seven on workdays, but sleep in until ten on the weekend, it’s disruptive for both sleep rhythms and the quality of your sleep will suffer.

Staring at a screen is another frequent activity which negatively affects your sleep. Computers, phones and TVs all emit what is called blue light which tells our body “Be awake! Go do something! It’s not time to go to sleep yet!” Surprisingly enough, screens aren’t the only problem: there are other sources of blue light you wouldn’t expect, such as classic fluorescent lamps and bulbs. Ideally, you should avoid blue light after 9 pmand light a candle or buy special lamps with red or orange light instead. If you do have to use a mobile or laptop, use applications that suppress blue light. Before going to bed, I recommend setting your cell phone to airplane mode.

Your bedroom should be reserved for sleeping only. Try to avoid it during the day, don’t bring your work to bed, don’t watch films in bed, and don’t lie down in your bed right after you come home. Your body should associate your bedroom with sleep only. Also, try to keep it as dark as possible; draw the curtains, keep the temperature around 18 degrees, let some fresh air in before going to bed, remove all the lights that stay on and don’t use any noisy objects.

If you have a lot of things on your mind, try to meditate, do yoga or stretching exercises, for 10 or 20 minutes before going to bed. If you keep doing them for some time, these techniques will help you sort out your thoughts and clear your head to very much improve your sleep.

If you work out late in the evening and have troubles falling asleep, try to do your training earlier, especially if it is rather demanding (circuit training, tabata, CrossFit, running, etc.). Training may energize your body, making it harder to fall asleep quickly. Caffeine may be another cause; try to avoid coffee, energy drinks, and strong tea after 2 pm.

How to fall asleep quickly

Eat your last meal two hours before going to bed so that your digestive system has a chance to process it. Brush your teeth 30 to 60 minutes after the meal and do your personal hygiene. Doing it right before going to bed could wake you up. Also, having a warm shower or a bath containing aromatic essences may help you fall asleep.

Ideally, one hour before going to bed turn the TV off, put your cell phone aside, grab a book or magazine and read about something nice and easy, or you can always have a nice chat with your partner.

When you feel tired and ready for sleep, go to the bedroom, put on your pyjamas, let some fresh air in, and try to think of something nice. If the lights or noise from the street bother you, consider putting on a sleep mask or using earplugs.

Also, it is important that you lie in your bed correctly. The healthiest way is on your back as it puts your spine in its optimum position to prevent backache, cramps, and muscle stiffness in the morning. The worst thing is to lie on your belly. However, keep in mind that it’s not the position you fall asleep in but the one you wake up in that matters! Everybody changes their position several times during the night.

Sleep disorders

Among the most frequent ones are problems falling asleep or interrupted sleep. Also, there are somnambulism, nightmares and night terrors, and restless legs syndrome. A healthy lifestyle, a varied and balanced diet, regular physical activity, fresh air, and a clear mind may help you overcome them. If they persist and affect the quality of your life, don’t hesitate and consult a doctor. Never take any sleeping pills without prior consultation, as you could do even more damage.

Melatonin and sleep

Melatonin is a hormone which (along with a lot of other excellent positive effects) helps form and maintain our circadian rhythms. If there is not enough melatonin in your body, you may experience sleep disorders. Melatonin is naturally created in your body, but it can also be supplemented under medical supervision. Exposure to blue light blocks the creation of this hormone, which is why blue light should be avoided later in the evening.


Autorka: Andrea Skolková (@zezivotaandie)

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