Barlow's etiological model

Nearly 15% of the French population considers that sleeping is a waste of time. However, one person in three suffers from sleep disorders. And yet, sleep plays a major role in all areas of our lives. Indeed, a good sleep is essential in learning and memorization (especially long-term memory), in the development of metabolism (very favorable to good growth in young people) or in many cognitive and biological functions. This will improve your general health and reduce the risk of depression, certain pathologies (such as cancer, obesity, stroke…) or even accidents (of cars among others).

1. How to define sleep?

 

Sleep is the state of falling asleep in which a person is. We are in a state of diminished alertness where we have, for a few hours, a loss of notion of the outside world, without the complete loss of our senses.

2. Importance of sleep

Sleep is really not to be overlooked. An adult needs, on average, between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. Obviously children and teenagers need even more. 

Sleeping will allow us to correctly function our cognitive or behavioral abilities. Indeed, how often do you find that you are not focused or are particularly irritable when you are tired?! Lack of sleep can therefore create attention disorders, neurological slowdowns or even mood disorders. 

In the longer term, our body can get used to a lack of sleep, which will create important consequences for our body. This increases the risk of having certain physical diseases (obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure…), but also psychological with a notable decrease in mental health. All of this combined often leads to premature death.

3. How sleep works 

Fatigue follows the circadian rhythm, which is the human biological clock that runs on a 24-hour basis. Sleep is secreted by a hormone called melatonin that is formed according to the brightness of the environment. Nighttime promotes the secretion of melatonin and thus makes one feel tired.

Sleep refers to a sequence of 3 to 6 cycles lasting between 90 and 120 minutes. Each cycle responds to 4 phases: sleep onset (or latency if we are entering a new cycle), light slow wave sleep, deep slow wave sleep, and REM sleep.

a. Falling asleep

Falling asleep is the transitional phase between waking and sleeping. It is the time when we begin to yawn, feel tired, and want to go to sleep. We feel a loss of interest in the activities on offer or in conversation. We think only about our need to go to sleep. When we are already in bed, this is the time when we close our eyes and our body starts to not really respond to reality. 

The speed of your breathing decreases. Your muscles relax. You let your consciousness go little by little. It is in this phase of half sleep that sometimes we may feel a sensation of falling into a void, or muscle convulsions. 

It takes between 5 and 20 minutes to fall asleep. If it takes you much longer to fall asleep (more than 30 minutes), it may be necessary to talk to a health care provider.

b. Light slow sleep

Brain activity slows down (hence the name “slow sleep“). We can continue to hear what is going on around us, to understand them sometimes, but we are no longer in the capacity to react to them. On the other hand, we remain very vulnerable to external stimuli that can easily wake us up.

This phase represents 50% of the time of a cycle. During this one, our brain activity decreases, even to the point of reducing our body temperature as well as our heart rate.

c. Deep slow sleep

Here we enter a phase where our brain becomes less and less sensitive to external stimuli. Noise and light are considered less and make it very difficult to wake up. The body is completely relaxed, and is in total rest. This is the period during which we really rest and during which we recover both physically and psychically the most from the fatigue accumulated during the day. We also recharge ourselves so that we have energy for the next day. 

This phase represents 20% of the time of a sleep cycle and will help consolidate one’s immune defenses.

d. REM sleep

This phase, which lasts about 20% of sleep time, is when brain activity is highest. It is also called “rapid eyes movement“, which means that it is a “rapid eyes movement” sleep. Indeed, in this phase, the eyes make constant movements. For all that, the rest of our body does not move. 

It is in this phase that we dream. Our dreams can be elaborate since our brain activity is intense. Dreams are a mental reproduction of what our brain can imagine or create. It is particularly important in the memory phase.

e. Latency

After the REM phase, we can wake up or leave for a new sleep cycle. To leave again in a sleep cycle is to restart from light sleep. If we wake up in this phase, we will be less tired during the day.

5. What routine to adopt? 

If you feel like you’re not getting a good night’s sleep or that you’re not getting enough sleep, there are a few strategies you can adopt that can help you sleep better, and follow these tips.

a. Go to bed at regular times

It is important to keep a regular sleep pattern, and to keep the same number of hours of sleep every night. It is important to go to bed as soon as you are tired and listen to your body, and little by little our sleep pattern will regulate itself. 

You can also set an alarm to remind you to get ready for bed. This will help you control your pace at first.

b. Paying attention to your diet

It is important to eat light, avoid drinking alcohol or using drugs before going to bed. This is because using certain substances before bed decreases sleep quality and favors weight gain. While certain drinks may allow you to fall asleep faster, sleep will not be restorative since it will be chopped up. 

Certain foods should also be avoided, such as too many calories. The digestive system is slowed down when you sleep and has more difficulty managing digestion. Acidic foods associated with lying down are also likely to create heartburn for you. 

It is also very important to eat balanced on a daily basis. Indeed, eating too much protein interferes with sleep, or lacking certain minerals (magnesium, iron etc.) can create inconveniences that would prevent you from sleeping fully.

c. Avoiding psychoactive substances

It is important to limit one’s intake of caffeine, theine, or other stimulating drinks or foods. We know that consuming the equivalent of 3 cups of coffee a day is beneficial on short-term memory, working memory, alertness, and promotes certain diets. On the other hand, you should try to limit the number during the day, and above all, it is important not to consume any more at all several hours before (5 to 6 hours before bedtime depending on the consumption you had during the day).

d. Get some fresh air during the day

Getting fresh air and light promotes good sleep. In fact, it is important to provide your body with daylight during the daytime hours so that the circadian rhythm can take place. Darkness will encourage sleep. 

When it comes to brightness, it’s important to not look at your phone or computer right before you go to sleep. The lighting on your screens decreases the creation of sleep-inducing melatonin.

e. Create your sleep atmosphere

Your bedroom should be conducive to good sleep. That is, calm, not very bright and rather cool. 

A quiet bedroom makes it easier to fall asleep and reduces the risk of nighttime awakenings, especially in the light slow wave sleep phase. 

Decreasing the brightness as much as possible will promote the secretion of melatonin present when it is dark, and thus make it easier to sleep

The room should also be able to have a temperature, ideally between 16 and 20°. If possible, it is best to create a natural temperature, by airing the room. In this way we will decrease all the air pollution in the house, and clean the environment.

f. Avoid staying in bed during the day

When we are on the weekend or with telecommuting, we tend to want to stay in our bed for comfort. In reality, it’s better to get out of bed and not make your room a place only for sleeping. Your brain doesn’t associate other activities (such as work) with bed and decreases difficulty falling asleep. 

Ideally, during your day (and avoid the evening) you should be able to do some sporting activity. So, even when telecommuting, force yourself to move. If you haven’t done any activity, you can do some yoga or relaxation to help you fall asleep.

g. Turn off the screens

Avoid sleeping with the screens on (TV, phone, Ipad…). The brightness interferes with your sleep, but more importantly, your brain doesn’t fully focus on your sleep. It stays awake and focused on the screen and what is happening on it. It is recommended to turn off screens 30 to 45 minutes before your bedtime.

5. What to do in case of insomnia?

If you follow the tips for better sleep, you may have less trouble falling asleep. On the other hand, if you can’t fall asleep, there may be otherunderlying reasons, conscious or not (anxiety, pain …). Do not take them lightly and consider consult a health professional.

When this happens to you, don’t stay in bed for too long. Get out of your room and do some quiet activity, without too much light, avoiding screens. You can,for example, read on your couch, take a bath, write a letter, drink a hot drink etc. Listening to relaxing music can also help a lot. After a while, you will feel the need to sleep. Go ahead, it’s time. 

 

Finally, don’t forget to never neglect your sleep. It is a indispensable recovery phase for your life and the proper functioning of your body.

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