What happens to us when we sleep?

Did you sleep well? If you did, you are no doubt ready to face whatever challenges today brings. If not, you will most likely be less productive and more irritable.

The science of sleep: the four stages

After a long, stressful day, we will inevitably be overcome with tiredness. We want nothing more than to surrender to it and fall asleep. Sometimes we manage to do so and sometimes we don’t. It is incredibly fascinating to discover what happens to us when we sleep. For example, who would have thought that we wake up as many as thirty times during the night without even realising it?

“There are four stages of sleep: light, medium, deep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement). They follow on from one another in that order, over a period of around 70 to 110 minutes in total,” explains Luise Deiters, corporate health management specialist at the AEH Centre and sleep expert.

Luise Deiters, sleep expert at AEH

While we are asleep, we barely notice that we are working our way through these four stages, even though we may appear rather restless to anyone watching: during all but the REM stage, we move constantly, changing our sleeping position up to 40 times. Yet, it is during this time that the body rejuvenates itself and its activity is significantly reduced.

“More and more people are suffering from problems with sleep,” explains Dieters. The factors causing problems with falling asleep and staying asleep can be either physical or psychological in particular and can have a huge impact on mind and body. However, we are able to influence our own sleep duration and quality to a certain extent.

What is your sleep chronotype?

Some people literally leap out of bed in the morning, while others are barely able to open their eyes. “We generally make a distinction between morning larks and night owls, so between early risers and people who are more active at night,” summarises Luise Deiters. An important factor in being able to enjoy good and restful sleep is identifying the best time to go to bed, which will be different for morning larks and night owls. “It is also essential that there is enough sleep pressure present; this is influenced by the release of the sleep hormone, melatonin, and the amount of time that you have been awake”. There is also little point in lying in bed when you are not really feeling sleepy yet.

However, there are other preparations that you can make. The first step is selecting a mattress offering the correct level of firmness and creating an atmosphere conducive to sleep by darkening the room, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day and engaging in bedtime rituals and relaxation techniques that stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system works counter to the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for activity and motivation, taking care of relaxation and rejuvenation. Yoga and breathing exercises are especially good for relaxation, for example.

Surrender to your dreams

When we do fall asleep, we literally enter a dream world. We can achieve this more easily by putting all our day-to-day worries behind us before going to bed and looking forward to a peaceful, relaxing night of deep sleep. After all, if you have a good night, you are bound to have a good day too.