A good night’s sleep is the secret to good health

by Isabelle Scheer at April 23, 2021

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Without giving it much thought, we lie down in bed every night and sleep. This is primarily important for our health.

Dr. Lara Maier has been interested in the topic of sleep since her medical studies. Then, on a Lifestyle Medicine course two years ago, she gained an even deeper understanding of the importance of healthy sleep. Lara has gone on to learn more about the topic and is keen to share what she has learned. And because good health begins with a good night’s sleep, we were determined to include content on this topic in the Caspar Library. In this article, we caught up with Lara to find out how sleep works and what positive health benefits we can all expect from a healthy night’s sleep.

So, Lara, how much sleep did you get last night?

What a great question (she laughs). Well, last night I definitely slept for five hours. It could even have been seven, but for the first two hours I’m not quite sure if I was awake or asleep. So last night wasn’t the best, unfortunately.

Does that mean five to seven hours isn’t enough?  

In general, we all have different biorhythms and need different amounts of sleep. Personally, I’m perfectly well rested after about eight hours, which is within the recommended range of seven to nine hours. I’m currently researching  a really exciting approach based on Ayurvedic teaching, which recommends going to bed quite early, at around 10:00 p.m., and then waking up with the sunrise at around 6:00 a.m. This enhances the physical processes of recovery and recuperation and, interestingly, if we follow this cycle, we are more refreshed when we get up at 6:30 than we would be if we got up an hour later at 7:30.

How exactly does bio- or sleep rhythm work?

Our bodies have internal clocks. Light and darkness regulate our sleep and wake phases in a 24-hour rhythm. You might have heard this referred to as the circadian rhythm. We need daylight for our inner clocks to work properly. Light enters our eyes and, in response, our bodies produce the sleep hormone melatonin. This is then released in the dark and promotes the process of falling asleep. If we spend a lot of time at home in the dark, we produce less melatonin and find it more difficult to fall asleep. That’s why it is a good idea to spend as much time outdoors as we can during daylight hours. It’s also why we tend to sleep better in the summer than in the winter.

Dr. Lara Maier

Dr. Lara Maier

Once we are asleep, we go through different phases that alternate and repeat in cycles. In addition to the falling asleep and light sleep phases, we also go into deep sleep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. In the deep sleep stage, our body shuts down non-vital functions and regenerates. This phase becomes shorter and shorter as the night progresses. In contrast, the length of REM sleep, which is when we dream, increases.

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep is a vital recovery process and our bodies cannot function in the long run if we don’t allow ourselves these recovery phases. We spend about a third of our lives asleep, so it should be obvious how important sleep is. So many essential processes take place while we are sleeping, including cell renewal and healing, blood formation, muscle and tissue growth. We also process the day’s events, learn and even strengthen our immune system by building new antibodies.

One very important aspect of this recovery and regeneration is the “cleansing” of our brains. Our glymphatic system removes waste products from cells while we are asleep, allowing our brains to work properly again the next day. The brain only accounts for about two percent of our body weight, but it consumes roughly 25 percent of the energy we generate. That’s because our brain cells are working so hard.

What happens if we don’t get enough sleep?

Even one sleepless night can make us feel restless and tired. We might find it difficult to concentrate. If we don’t get enough sleep for a few nights, our bodies stop working as they should and that weakens our immune system and can lead to mental and physical ill-health, including high blood pressure, diabetes, hallucinations and depression. Sleep is not a panacea, but healthy sleep can certainly help prevent a wide range of conditions.

Do you have any tips for getting a restful night’s sleep?

In general, it’s a good idea to go outdoors for at least half an hour a day and maintain a regular sleep pattern. You should only use your bed for sleeping or sex. That means no TV or eating in bed. If you associate your bed exclusively with sleep, you’ll find it much easier to drift off peacefully each night.

And as far as nutrition is concerned, it helps to make lunch your main meal of the day and to have a light, low-carb dinner as early in the evening as you can. We’ve all heard of the benefits of drinking warm milk with honey in the evening. Well, that really helps because the combination of lactose and honey triggers beneficial biochemical processes and makes you feel tired, warm and relaxed. In contrast, you should definitely avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evenings.

As the day draws to an end, meditation can also help to slow things down and make you feel happily tired. In a similar vein, you should try to avoid exercise two hours before bedtime, as physical activity will wake your body back up. About an hour before you go to bed, it’s time to turn off the TV, put your cell phone away and let some fresh air into your bedroom.

If your mind is racing and you can’t fall asleep, it helps to simply write down your thoughts to clear your head. Otherwise, try not to stay awake in bed for any length of time. If you have to, get up and read something until you start feeling drowsy. If you often have problems getting to sleep and none of these tips help, it’s important that you get to the bottom of the problem.

What can patients expect from the new Caspar sleep content?

Sleep is incredibly relevant in terms of health. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. That’s the main reason we decided to add a video on sleep to the Caspar library. We wanted to share our expertise with our patients and help them get a good night’s sleep every night. The script was written by our psychological psychotherapist Henrik Grobe and everyone who has seen the video has said how great it is – I am super proud of that.

Click here for the teaser.