The importance of good sleep

In this module we describe briefly how sleep functions for us humans. After that we present scientifically based tips on behavioural changes for good sleep.

Photo: Unsplash

Background: sleep

Sleep is important for us to feel well and be able to cope with tough periods. Most people benefit the most from 7-8 hours of sleep per night, although it varies greatly between different people (Cappucino et al., 2010). A rather significant portion of adults feel fine on as little as five hours of sleep, while others need closer to to nine. However, it is not only the amount of sleep we get that affects how we feel but also how well we sleep, in other words our sleep quality. Unfortunately, sleep is something that is negatively affected when we are stressed or strained in some other way. In situations like that we often have problems falling asleep at night, wake up several times during the night or wake up too early in the morning.

Another thing that often happens when we have trouble sleeping is that we start to worry about not sleeping enough. This is really tricky, since this concern itself has a tendency to add to our sleep problems. It may help to know that we often get more sleep than we think we do, even during nights that we feel our sleep is bad, and that there is no danger to our health to have a few nights of bad sleep. Our stress system helps us stay awake when we really need to be, even if we have slept poorly, and the body will recover lost sleep with more deep sleep once it has the opportunity to do so.


Sleep tight!

Tips: Steps for good sleep

There are quite a number of things you can do to improve your sleep, especially since your sleep is affected by what you do during the day. In connection with the outbreak of Covid-19, guidelines on sleep were created by a working group from the European Sleep Research Society (Altena et al., 2020). Several of the pieces of advice given are useful even now that we are back at campus. The most important advice for good sleep is presented below.

Maintain somewhat regular sleep times, and most importantly - get out of bed at a somewhat similar time every day. Getting out of bed at roughly the same time every day affects two processes that are important to sleep - the sleep pressure and circadian rhythm.

Some form of regular exercise, preferably in the daylight. The idea that physical activity helps to improve sleep at night has been well established in research.

Engage in social activities for a while every day. Social activities during the day helps to improves sleep almost as much as physical activity. 

Make sure you get enough daylight every day, preferably in the morning or early in the day. Daylight affects biological processes that make it easier to fall asleep at night.

Spend some time doing calm activities for a while before you go to bed, for example reading or yoga.

Organise your bedroom so that it is good for sleeping. Turn your bedroom into a safe, comfortable, cool, quiet and dark place to the extent that you can.

Leave your mobile phone, tablet and computer outside the bedroom - turn off notifications and sounds when you are going to sleep to avoid being disturbed. The computer can often be completely switched off.

If possible, use the bed only for sleep and sex, no other activities. The easiest way to do this is by not going to bed until it is time to sleep and you are usually sleepy.


Having serious sleep problems

Tips: If you need more help with your sleep

Persistent sleep problems for a longer period of time - insomnia - is characterised by problems falling asleep, problems waking up during the night or too early in the morning, or a combination of the two, or that you are not satisfied with your sleep and your functions during the day are reduced.

If the sleep problems have occurred for at least three times a week for three months you should consider getting help. CBT in cases of insomnia is the first hand choice according to international recommendations (for example Riemann et al. 2017), and can be sought at, for example, your health clinic or 

Student Wellbeing Centre also organises a lunch web seminar about sleep

References: Sleep

Altena, E., Baglioni, C., Espie, C. A., Ellis, J., Gavriloff, D., Holzinger, B., Schlarb, A., Frase, L., Jernelov, S., Riemann, D. (2020). Dealing with sleep problems during home confinement due to the COVID-19 outbreak: Practical recommendations from a task force of the European CBT-I Academy. J Sleep Res, 29(4), e13052. doi:10.1111/jsr.13052

Cappucio, F. P., D’Ella, L., Strazzullo, P., & Miller, M. (2010). Sleep-duration and all cause mortality: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. SLEEP, 33, 585-592.

Riemann, D., Baglioni, C., Bassetti, C., Bjorvatn, B., Dolenc Groselj, L., Ellis, J. G., . . . Spiegelhalder, K. (2017). European guideline for the diagnosis and treatment of insomnia. J Sleep Res, 26(6), 675-700. doi:10.1111/jsr.12594

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