Sleep is not the same for everyone in terms of duration and quality, as it varies according to age and personal habits. For most adults, it is enough to sleep well from 7 to 8 hours a night. So-called “long sleepers” require more hours of rest, while for “short sleepers”, 5 or 6 hours of sleep are sufficient to be comfortable.
What happens to the body if you don’t sleep enough?
Good sleep quality is essential, as it fundamentally affects the individual’s psychophysical well-being. Lack of sleep results in unpleasant sensations such as chronic fatigue, decreased attention, concentration and irritability. The most insidious effects on the body’s health are:
- Weakening of the immune system
- Increased risks for the development of cardiovascular diseases
- Weight gain
- Reduced regeneration of cellular tissues
One evening, you may not have been able to sleep well and turn around continuously in bed, struggling to find the best position to reconcile sleep. This can happen after a hectic day or if a significant event awaits us the next day. It is different to experience more nights per week, for a prolonged period, of the considerable difficulties in maintaining a good sleep quality. We speak in these cases of sleep disorders.
Insomnia and sleep disorders
The most known sleep disorder is insomnia, the inability to take sleep even when you feel the need for sleep. It differs in initial insomnia (difficulty to fall asleep), maintenance insomnia (frequent and prolonged night awakenings) and terminal insomnia (early awakening in the morning without being able to fall asleep again). The causes can be psychological (stress, anxiety, depression), physical origin (diseases or physical pains), and poor sleep hygiene.
A risk factor, for example, for good sleep quality is work on shifts, including night shifts: the continuous changes in time can cause a difference in the sleep-wake rhythm, dysregulating our “internal clock” and consequently the correct succession of rest and waking state.
If about 30-50 % of adults experience occasional difficulty in sleeping rest, it is estimated that sleep disorders affect 6-13 % of the population, with a greater frequency in women.
In these cases, the help of a specialist becomes essential: when the disorder is prolonging over time, significantly affecting the quality of life, it is good to contact a professional (psychotherapist, psychiatrist, neurologist) to identify possible causes and intervention strategies.
Some good rules can help us improve the quality of our rest in general and assist, alongside them, other interventions in favour of good sleep.
How to sleep well: 7 golden rules
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time. The sleep-wake rhythm is regulated by an internal clock that adapts to external stimuli.
- Limit exposure to screen light. The use of tablets and cell phones before sleeping has an activating effect on our brain.
- Relax. Spend some time on pleasant activities such as reading a book, a warm bath or relaxing music.
- Avoid caffeine consumption during the evening hours.
- Avoid great dinners with high protein content.
- Exercise at appropriate times. Sport has beneficial effects on the body and mood, but medium-high-intensity physical activity also has an exciting impact on our brain, hindering sleep.
- Sleep in a quiet and dark place. Factors such as light or excessive noise keep our brain “awakening”, making it difficult to sleep.
Curated by the psychotherapist Dr Giulia Deretti