Sleep is essential as it is a key factor that contributes to our health and is linked to a person’s physical and mental well-being. Our physical, mental and psycho-emotional functioning can be positively affected by a quality sleep. Whereas sleep problems often may be a symptom of a mental disorder, such as depression and anxiety, or it can exacerbate mental health symptoms.
In the past, sleep was often considered a passive phenomenon, an intermediate pause in the body’s physical and mental alertness, without any particular function. Even today we could say that many people consider sleep as a redundant but “necessary evil” imposed by nature. However, besides the fact that the usefulness of sleep is now scientifically proved, most people who have faced difficulties in their sleep recognize how essential sleep is to their daily functioning.
How sleep works and why do we need it?
Contrary to past beliefs on sleep, now sleep is considered a dynamic activity during which the brain is characterized by intense activity which is divided into different stages. This brain activity usually unfolds in five cycles in a specific sequence per night, and each cycle can be repeated several times during the sleep period. These five phases are included in two broad stages of sleep, the stage of slow wave sleep (NREM sleep) and the stage which is sleep with rapid eye movements (REM sleep) during which there is intense brain activity. NREM and REM sleep alternate cyclically over the course of a period of and it is very important to have both, as one is necessary for the body to recover and the other to process what we have gained during the day.
After a good night sleep, we feel rested, we can face the challenges better and fulfill our daily obligations more efficiently. The great usefulness of sleep could be perceived from our daily need to sleep and also from our desire to sleep after a demanding period. Many studies have established the dangers of sleep deprivation, but beyond that, the negative effects on the daily life of people who have difficulty sleeping and notice fatigue, inability to concentrate, difficulties in attention and retaining information, depressed mood, reduced critical thinking skills and reduced performance.
In order to be able to respond fully and effectively to the demands of everyday life we need to enable our body to recover its physical and mental strength through a quality and sufficient sleep. Sleep is necessary both for our survival through the functions of thermoregulation, energy conservation, regulation of physiological processes, but also for our mental functioning since the brain has the ability to recharge and perform more efficiently during wakefulness since during sleep our brain assimilates information, consolidates memories, processes stimuli and achieves regulation of stress levels and emotions.
“I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping lately, I go to bed quite late and wake up in between, so I wake up in the morning tired if I manage to get up at all… I can’t keep missing classes or not being able to concentrate. I have dreams for my life, I have goals, I have obligations…I have so many things that I feel I have to catch up on and I can’t because of the constant tiredness I feel, sometimes I think my mind can’t function anymore.”
- 22 years old
How can I ensure a good night’s sleep?
In order to live better and have a balanced daily functioning, we also need to sleep well. Each person differs in terms of the hours of sleep they need, the quality and habits of their sleep, their daily needs and the external conditions and factors that may affect them. When difficulties in sleep begin to become a problem, it is important to make substantial changes that will improve our sleep and thus contribute to a good quality of life.
A disturbed sleep can often be a normal response to external and internal factors and conditions that affect our sleep, such as a stressful event in our life, an organic condition such as pain or significant changes in the external environment. However, if this difficulty is not a temporary condition that improves over time, it becomes a problem when it recurs and affects our daily functioning and quality of life. In the event that it is not a temporary issue and its effects on our lives begin to trouble us, then it would help us to understand what is it that makes it difficult for us to sleep, what are the causes and factors that prevent us from having a good sleep and start managing them effectively.
In our effort to manage sleep difficulties we must understand that each person’s life circumstances are different, for this reason the solutions and choices they will make to improve their sleep is important to be personalized and proportional to each situation that causes the difficulty in sleeping. Careful observation of the particular conditions that affect each person and a targeted change of these conditions can have beneficial in solving the difficulty in sleeping.
To have a better sleep it is also important to acquire healthier sleeping habits and learn how to improve them, since insomnia and poor sleep are often the result of learned practices. The tips and techniques in relation to good practices that have a positive impact are many, such as a healthy diet, physical exercise, beneficial daily activities, good habits and better sleeping conditions. We should always remember to adjust them to our own life conditions and address first the factors that negatively affect sleep. This course of action will help us to understand what makes it difficult for us to have a quality sleep and to deal holistically with the difficulties by choosing the most appropriate solutions and not try advices which, although correct, when adapted to more specific conditions are proved to be weak in terms of their effectiveness.