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Improve deep sleep: 5 tips

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  • Can you sleep “wrong”?
  • What is deep sleep?
  • What happens in the body during deep sleep? Why is he so important?
  • How to use sleep cycles for better sleep?
  • When does the deep sleep phase take place?
  • How can I extend my deep sleep phase?

You fall asleep quickly and don't lie awake at night. You rarely have a nightmare and you don't stop breathing when you snore. In short: you sleep wonderfully.

And yet you can't get out of bed in the morning and are rarely really alert during the day – no matter how long you slept at night? The case is clear: you sleep ineffectively! We'll explain to you how you can get more out of less sleep for your well-being.

Can you sleep “wrong”?

“Yes, you can actually sleep too long and at the wrong times,” says renowned sleep researcher Professor Jürgen Zulley. In both cases, you may have gotten enough sleep and still feel mushy.

Because it is not the number of hours spent in bed that ensures a truly restful sleep. Rather, you have to follow your individual sleep rhythm. To find out, you have to know the architecture of sleep.

What is deep sleep?

Deep sleep consists of different things cycleswhich differ in the activity of the brain:

  1. During the Sleep phase The body relaxes, breathing becomes calmer, but sleep is still so light that you can easily be woken up from it. Check out these sleeping positions to help you fall asleep.
  2. In the following Light sleep phase If brain activity drops to a low frequency, consciousness is switched off. The body has the first one after about 20 to 30 minutes and also the longest one, lasting about an hour Deep sleep phase achieved, body and mind are maximally relaxed.
  3. After a while you emerge from deep sleep and experience the dreamy one REM sleep (rapid eye movement). Brain activity accelerates significantly. Sleep researchers assume that information and emotional impressions from waking hours are processed during REM sleep.

Then it goes down again. During the course of the night, deep sleep and REM phases alternate about 4 to 6 times, with the deep sleep phases becoming shorter and the REM phases longer. A sleep cycle is the cycle through all stages of sleep, each lasting around 90 minutes. Our expert explains below how you can optimally use these cycles for your well-being.

What happens in the body during deep sleep? Why is he so important?

During deep sleep, the muscles are maximally relaxed. The EEG curve, which shows brain activity, is characterized by a calm wave pattern with deep valleys. The body also releases growth hormones, which stimulate the regeneration of all body cells and strengthen the immune system.

How to use sleep cycles for better sleep?

The most important prerequisite for getting up effortlessly: Let your alarm clock go off at the end of a cycle. Because if it takes you out of a deeper sleep, the day becomes difficult. A cycle usually lasts around 90 minutes, but since the first one is slightly shorter, you reach the most suitable phases of light sleep for waking up after five and a half, seven and eight and a half hours (plus the approximate time it takes you to fall asleep). If you're still in the middle of vivid dreams when your alarm goes off, you'll need to add a few more minutes to your sleep time the next day.

Tipp: Avoid using the snooze button on the alarm clock. You'll just repeat the agony of being woken up and fall into a restless sleep that costs more energy than it brings.

Do you sleep in accordance with your cycles? Good! It's even better if the rhythm is right. Your internal clock controls all biological rhythms. At night it stimulates the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, and in the morning it stimulates the release of the awakening hormone cortisol. It also regulates the body temperature so that the lowest value is reached around three o'clock in the morning. “Biologically speaking, this is the witching hour, when you feel most uncomfortable when you're awake,” says Zulley, author of The Little Sleep School.

When does the deep sleep phase take place?

The particularly restful deep sleep takes place in the first 5 hours and before 3 a.m. So if you stay up until well after midnight, you can forget about the best quality sleep, even if you sleep until midday.

But don't make the mistake of going to bed too early because you have to get out early or because you want to be particularly fit. This only works if you fall asleep straight away due to lack of sleep. It's more likely that you'll lie awake, ponder, and sleep tensely and restlessly. Because pre-sleeping doesn't work anyway, you should go to bed at your usual time (note the cycle!) and make up for lost sleep by going to bed a little earlier the next night and taking a nap.

How can I extend my deep sleep phase?

What can you do specifically to improve your sleep quality? With these 5 strategies you can get more rest with less sleep:

1. Maintain regular bedtimes

If you want to make the most of your hours in bed, you need to go to bed and, more importantly, get up at about the same time every day. It sounds bourgeois, but unfortunately deep sleep reacts sensitively to an unstable life. The internal clock loves fixed habits because it itself is imprecise. This is not a design flaw, but rather necessary to adapt to changing conditions (longer summer days, new time zones).

Background: For most people, the internal day would be 25 hours long if sunlight did not keep the internal clock in sync. In the evening and morning types (technical jargon: owls and larks), the sleep-wake cycle is up to 2 hours longer (owls) or shorter than 25 hours. In order to stay in sync, your internal clock is even more dependent on external timers, especially sunlight, contacts and regularity.

Even if you were free to organize your time, it can't be brushed aside. Sleeping and waking every 24 hours is less about social obligations than about the strict 24-hour rhythm of body temperature.

If you don't see enough sun and live erratically, the two most important inner rhythms can diverge. The result: At some point you will want to be active when it is the witching hour for your body temperature. You are cold, feel low in energy and in a bad mood. Later you lie in bed when the temperature is set to action and therefore don't get a restful sleep. On the other hand, a little regularity seems like the lesser evil, doesn't it?

2. Take a nap on the weekend

You're consistent on weekdays, but you can't get out of bed on weekends. The internal clock reacts quickly to such a backward shift. The harder it is for you to get up, the earlier you have to get out and the longer you stay lying down on the weekend, the harder you will suffer for it on Monday. Better: Get up at about the same time on weekends, treat yourself to a nap as a luxury, or go to bed earlier if you lack sleep. This is how you can have a relaxing power nap.

But don't set your expectations of a nap too high: A US study showed that a 30 to 60 minute power nap is not enough to compensate for weakening ability to concentrate due to a lack of deep sleep at night. The reason: The regenerating deep sleep phase is missing.

3. Make sure you get enough sunlight

Some people can afford to be a little more erratic with impunity if they expose themselves to bright light at the right time. However, normal lighting with a maximum of 400 lux does not work. The sun creates 1,500 to 100,000 lux. “If you spend an hour outside before work, you will be more alert during the day,” says chronobiologist Zulley.

If that's not possible, you can let artificial sunlight illuminate you at the breakfast table or in the office after getting up. “For a positive effect, 10,000 lux must work for half an hour or 2,500 lux for two hours,” says sleep doctor Hans-Günter Weeß (you can find his best sleep tips in his book Sleep Works Wonders). This allows you to shift your favorite bedtime in small steps. If you would like to last longer in the evening, you have to expose yourself to light in the evening.

These daylight lamps, for example, can help you stabilize your biorhythm if there is a winter light deficit:

  • The TL30 daylight lamp from Beurer is small and handy, like a tablet with a variable stand, so that you can quickly set it up wherever you happen to be. There are 5 brightness levels, 3 light colors and it is UV-free, but you need a power outlet nearby.
  • The light therapy lamp from the French brand Top Life with a maximum of 15,000 lux is adjustable in 3 levels and fits in your briefcase.
  • The Philips daylight alarm clock HF3531/01 wakes you up with a sunrise function in the form of gradually brighter light in 5 levels. It also includes a digital alarm clock with radio and natural alarm tones.

Unfortunately, the artificial sun cannot eliminate all abuses of the internal clock. If the system is overused (shift and night work), the bright light will help, but sleep and alertness will still suffer.

4. Give in to your genes

The fact that, as mentioned, there are 3 optimal wake-up times does not mean that you can choose one. Only real short sleepers can get by with 5.5 hours; long sleepers need 8.5 hours. Most people do well with 7. This is genetically determined – you can't change it without paying. “Hardly anyone knows what it's like to be wide awake anymore,” complains sleep researcher Thomas Wehr from the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda.

In many experiments, the subjects' sleep levels only leveled off when they had caught up on up to 25 hours of sleep. To optimize your sleep, go to bed 1.5 hours earlier every night for a while – as long as you lack sleep, it won't be difficult for you to fall asleep. Afterwards, always give yourself as much sleep as you need. Anyone who consistently doesn't sleep enough has a higher risk of becoming fat, forgetful and sick. After just 14 days with a daily sleep deficit of 2 hours, you are as off track as you would be after a completely awake night.

5. Don't sleep too much

Anyone who exceeds their personal optimum will only get shallow, restless sleep. “If you oversleep for a very long time, you will even fall into a deep sleep again in the morning,” says Weeß. “It completely messes up your internal clock and you wake up feeling completely exhausted.” On the other hand, if you keep the time in bed short, you will be awake longer, and this will prolong the restful deep sleep at the beginning of the night. Not only are you fitter, but you also have more time. What more do you want?

Regular bedtimes that match your individual biological rhythm are the key to relaxed sleep that optimally regenerates the body. Try to compensate for lack of sleep by taking a nap at midday instead of sleeping longer in the morning. It's not the number of hours that makes healthy sleep, but rather the optimal sleep rhythm.

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