Sleeping is one thing we don’t have to learn. We do it automatically when we are tired after a long day and lie down in bed or on the couch. If you don’t get enough sleep during the night because you went to bed too late or couldn’t fall asleep for a long time, you will be in a bad mood and tired during the day. Sleep is a basic need and contributes to our health. Sleeping little or not at all over a long period of time can lead to serious secondary illnesses or life-threatening situations.
This is because our bodies absolutely need sleep in order to function properly in the long term. Why this is so and what you can do against sleep problems you will learn further down in the article.
Table of contents
What Happens While You Sleep
When you’re tired, you usually fall asleep on your own. Sometimes it is enough to go to your usual sleeping environment (bedroom, nursery, bed) to get tired. The body then adjusts to the following rest phase.
After falling asleep, one falls into a still quite light sleep. This gradually becomes deeper and finally leads to the deep sleep phase. This part of sleep is particularly restful. After some time, the REM phase follows. REM is the abbreviation for rapid eye movement and means as much as fast movements of the eyes. This is because in this phase the eyes are closed, but they move back and forth quickly. We look at dream images, experience excitement or tension in realistic dream situations or nightmares.
If you are awakened during a deep sleep phase, you may even not know where you are. It then takes a few minutes to get your bearings and wake up. If one then gets up, it can be that one is still depressed and tired for a longer time.
If, on the other hand, you get up after being awakened from a lighter sleep phase, you are pleasantly refreshed and ready for the day. That’s why there are special sleep phase alarm clocks that measure the sleep cycle and wake their owner in a light sleep phase. This way, you don’t have to keep hitting the snooze button because you’re actually still way too tired to get up.
By the way, the sleep cycle means the sequence of sleep phases. Within one night, we experience several light sleep phases, REM phases, and deep sleep phases, which alternate again and again. The deep sleep phases are particularly long during the night. Therefore, sleeping at night is the most restful for us. In the morning, on the other hand, the REM phases are longer – we have long, vivid dreams and do not sleep quite as deeply.
Why Do We Dream?
Researching this area of sleep is not easy. Therefore, it is currently assumed that it serves to process the events of the day. We relive situations that have moved us. Sometimes people or things change in the dream. Basically, however, during REM sleep we usually encounter things and people we know from “real” life.
In addition, the dream phase serves to remember new things. Everything that has been learned during the day is memorized during sleep. This is how it is stored in the brain.
That’s why it’s important to get a good night’s sleep before an exam day. This is the only way to make sure that what you have learned stays in your head.
Causes Of Sleep Problems
Some people can no longer fall asleep properly. Others wake up again and again or can only sleep for a short time before they are wide awake in the middle of the night. Such complaints are not normal and are unhealthy in the long run.
The following things can disrupt sleep and affect the quality of sleep:
Nightmares And Sleepwalking
Many kids between the ages of four and eight go for “walks” at night. Without realizing it, they leave the bed in their sleep and wake up in the living room, the kitchen, or somewhere else. Some sit up in bed without realizing it. Others have nightmares that deprive them of sleep. Monsters, bad people, or horrible events scare people even though they are not real. It is normal not to want to go back to sleep after a bad nightmare because you are afraid of the dreams.
Let your parents or a sibling comfort you if you had a nightmare. This will give you the reassurance you need to go back to sleep without worrying. Be sure to talk to your parents about it if you keep having nightmares. Maybe you can find out why. After all, it’s often things that you can’t explain or that scare you in real life that can haunt you into sleep. It helps to tackle the issue together with your parents.
Children in particular sometimes react quite strongly to caffeinated drinks such as cola or coffee. Therefore, these things should actually be taboo for you. They make you restless and can deprive you of the sleep that is so important to you.
Basically, everyone reacts differently to certain substances. It is the same with caffeine. While some people can drink a cup of coffee in the evening without having sleep problems, others don’t drink any more coffee after 4:00 p.m. because otherwise, they can’t fall asleep until late at night.
Don’t forget that some sweets and medicines also contain caffeine. This substance is not for you and should be avoided until you are a little older.
Drinking A Lot Before Going To Bed
Many people go to the toilet every night. They wake up with their bladder full and urgently need to relieve themselves. Some don’t make it in time and wet the bed. While going to the toilet at night is completely normal and okay, bedwetting can be a sign of psychological problems or unprocessed trauma and should be treated.
It is also unhealthy if you cannot fall asleep after going to the toilet or have to go to the toilet again and again during the night.
Sometimes physical causes may be to blame for the fact that you often have to go to the toilet at night. It is better to check whether you have bladder weakness or a urinary tract infection if this applies to you.
Irregular Sleeping Hours And Shift Work
We, humans, are creatures of habit. Of course, this also applies to sleep. Because if working hours keep changing, the body can’t cope. People who work irregular hours (night shift, late shift, early shift) often suffer from a lack of sleep. This kind of work is unnatural for humans. Therefore, it is forbidden for kids and teenagers to work very early in the morning or late at night.
If you party on weekends and go to bed late, it’s hard to get back into a different sleep rhythm at the beginning of the week. Therefore, try to go to bed early enough on Sundays. This will save you from fatigue and concentration problems at school or training.
Noise due to a restless place of residence can also have a disturbing effect on the sleep rhythm. If you live near a highway, main road, or an airport, the quality of your sleep suffers greatly. This is because noise disturbs the natural sleep phases at night.
Low Blood Pressure And Illness
Illnesses such as flu and the like can have a negative effect on your sleep. Fever and pain make it difficult to fall asleep. A cold is even more unpleasant because sometimes you can’t breathe through your nose. Nasal sprays can provide relief.
Fever and pain make sick people wake up during the night and make falling asleep again almost impossible. Make sure the air in the room is good (ventilate, open windows, use humidifiers) if you have trouble breathing or can hardly get air.
A hot cup of herbal tea with honey relieves the discomfort of the mouth and throat and can be soothing. In an emergency, get up to brew some tea and lie back in bed after drinking it.
People with low blood pressure may wake up frequently during the night. This is because our blood pressure naturally drops during sleep. Those who have low blood pressure anyway will wake up as a result.
This is one reason why people with low blood pressure often feel tired and weak during the day.
Snoring And Sleep Apnea
It is unpleasant when siblings or parents snore. This is especially true if the culprit sleeps in the same room as you. It is not uncommon for couples to sleep in separate beds because the snoring noise can become unbearable over time.
Men and older people snore far more often than women and young people, by the way. Usually, the quality of sleep of the snorers themselves is hardly disturbed, while partners and family members have to suffer from the noise nuisance.
If you have drunk a lot of alcohol, you usually snore even louder. Obesity, high blood pressure, coffee, and nicotine can also make the snoring noise even louder.
Meanwhile, there are many good ways to get rid of this problem. Most of them work because you start snoring when you are in a deep sleep phase. For example, there are special flashing lights that put snorers into a lighter sleep phase as soon as they start “sawing”.
In very bad cases, one can be observed in a sleep lab to get recommendations. People whose breathing stops completely at times during sleep should also seek the advice of experts. Because, unlike snoring, sleep apnea is not harmless. It is a serious and dangerous sleep disorder that absolutely must be clarified.
However, not everyone who snores automatically suffers from sleep apnea.
One would think that the numbing effect of alcohol would lead to better sleep. However, this is not the case. Alcohol consumption tends to have a negative effect on the quality of sleep. So if you think alcohol as a sleep aid is a good idea, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
Moreover, it is not recommended because you can easily become dependent on alcohol. This is especially true if you drink it regularly and always on the same occasion or time of day because you expect this or that effect from it.
Drugs and alcohol will not solve your sleep problems. Rather, consult a doctor to discuss the problem and possibly get a herbal sedative.
Greasy And Heavy Food
You spend the evening at the cinema, eat popcorn or a large portion of nachos and afterward, you are pretty “pissed off” – who doesn’t know that?
Greasy and heavy food keeps your digestive organs busy. In the evening, this can be a burden because the food lies in your stomach. Because by 7:00 p.m. at the latest, your body adjusts to slowly becoming quieter. Some organs stop working. This includes your digestive tract. If you eat a lot in the evening, your body can no longer process it.
This puts a strain on you and leads to problems falling asleep. This is because you force your body to become active at a time when it is already set to rest.
Avoid eating late, but on the other hand, treat yourself to a light dinner before 7:00 pm. A growling stomach is also unpleasant at bedtime.
Mental Illness And Stress
Our heads can’t stop thinking when we are very anxious. Musings and tormenting thoughts then keep us from sleeping. One is then so busy that one cannot relax at all.
Rather, before going to bed, try to get distance from the problem. Take care of it during the day and try to change your situation for the better. At night you should relax and give yourself some time off.
Depression and other mental illnesses can also keep you from sleeping. This is because depressed people can hardly get up for anything during the day anyway. As a result, they are not tired in the evening and hardly sleep at all. This in turn means that the next day is again characterized by tiredness and listlessness. This is also called a vicious circle. Many depressive people, therefore, lie in bed during the day while they brood or watch television. They simply no longer have the energy to do anything else. But that makes it difficult to fall asleep in the evening.
If you feel that you are suffering from a depressive episode, please contact your doctor. He can prescribe mild sedatives. This will help you get a night of more restful sleep and be more active during the day. If this does not help, you should consider working with a psychotherapist. This is also not a big deal. After all, many people take advantage of therapy to get their lives back under control.
This is the ingredient in tobacco-containing cigarettes that gives people a short-term high and has a stimulant effect. However, this also has consequences. Smokers need longer to fall asleep than non-smokers.
This is because the nicotine in cigarettes has a similar effect to the caffeine in coffee. It has a stimulating effect and prevents fatigue. That’s why smokers often rapidly notice an improvement in the quality of their sleep once they quit smoking.
Consequences Of Persistent Insomnia
Having sleep problems over a long period of time can have an extremely negative effect on your general health.
A very early symptom of insomnia is daytime sleepiness. You have to get up in the morning even though you just fell asleep. It is a real struggle until you are finally ready for school or work. On the bus, train, or in the car, you have to struggle to fall asleep again.
You are easily irritable, in a bad mood, and have a hard time concentrating. Especially monotonous things make us sleepy and are then extremely exhausting. This symptom already appears after a first sleepless night and is still quite harmless. This is because daytime sleepiness usually makes us tired enough in the evening to sleep extensively.
But if the situation doesn’t improve, because you’re asleep again in the evening and can’t fall asleep, things get dicey. The body then feels tired, while the head still won’t rest. If you don’t get the insomnia under control, you can expect the following complaints:
- Stomach and digestive problems (gastritis).
- Weak immune system and frequent infections.
- Reduced life expectancy and premature signs of aging.
- Reduced performance.
- High risk of accidents at work.
- High blood pressure.
- Cardiovascular diseases.
If one does not sleep at all for a long period of time, a life-threatening condition may set in. Prior to this, serious psychological sequelae may occur due to insomnia. However, you should not let it get that far by seeing a doctor in time.
Did you know that statistically speaking, you will live less if you always sleep too little? This is what Japanese researchers have found out. According to their study, seven to eight hours of sleep is ideal. If you repeatedly sleep less than seven hours, you have to reckon with serious damage to your health. But too much sleep also harms health, scientists report.
Worksheet For The Text
1) Explain the difficult words from the text.
- REM phase.
- Sleep cycle.
2) What are the reasons for sleep disorders? Write down in bullet points what you remembered. Use headings, glow-in-the-dark pens, or colorful fiber markers to do this.
3) What is your sleep pattern? When do you go to sleep, when do you get up? How many hours do you sleep? Draw a clock face. Mark the time period when you usually sleep. Compare your sleep pattern with your classmates.
Photo: Deyan Georgiev / bigstockphoto.com