Sleep is one of the most essential bodily functions of humans. Good sleep hygiene and a sufficiently long sleep are indispensable for a positive mood, memory, good immunity, and the normal functioning of your metabolism.
Although the importance of sleep is increasingly recognized within medicine and the general public, sleep is still seen by many as a necessary evil.
Unfortunately, over the past few decades, we have been getting an average of one hour less sleep per night.
Modern society simply has a negative impact on our sleep.
The 24-hour society in which we always want to be available (or sometimes have to) has left its mark on our sleep. We spend a lot of time behind screens, no longer take time to sleep, eat more, and exercise less.
Thus, due to this lifestyle change, sleep disorders are also becoming more common such as insomnia, shifted wake-sleep rhythms, and sleep apnea.
Read on to learn all about good sleep hygiene, how our biorhythm affects sleep, and numerous stimuli and factors that influence our night's rest, for better or worse.
Why good sleep hygiene is indispensable
A good night's sleep is as indispensable to humans as water, food, and oxygen.
In sleep, all our bodily and brain functions are restored.
Thus, people with sleep deprivation cannot function properly, and such sleep deprivation increases the risk of various serious diseases.
To give a few examples:
The importance of good sleep hygiene is underestimated
Many (younger) people think sleep is a waste of time.
For example, some want to be awake for as long as possible to do fun things like binge-watch, attend music festivals, party, etc.
Sleeping short is also associated in Western culture with hard work and masculinity.
Moreover, we live in a 24-hour society where everything has to be possible anytime, anywhere. 24/7 online shopping, instant gratification of desires, and so on.
This encourages disrupted sleep patterns in a significant portion of the U.S. population.
Good sleep hygiene is essential for good brain function and memory
Good sleep is desperately needed for your body and brain to rest and work properly.
During sleep, many critical processes occur, such as memory consolidation when knowledge and skills are recorded to memory.
This applies to all types of memorization, such as learning abstract knowledge from a book or skills like learning to kayak for beginners, spin, run, trampoline jump, bike, swim, skate, orientation, and play a musical instrument.
You can read, listen and practice all you want during the day, but not much will happen if you don't then store that in your memory during sleep.
You also need good sleep to learn to interact with your environment, process emotions and other psychological influences, develop new ideas, prepare for the next day, and regulate your behavior.
Adequate sleep is also vital for clear decision-making.
Sleep is also crucial for the immune system and the production of hormones, such as growth and sex hormones.
And finally, during sleep, harmful waste products are expelled from the brain.
All of these essentials only happen during healthy sleep!
Frequently asked questions about good sleep hygiene
All of these questions about sleep are addressed in the following blog posts and the further information below:
What is sleep and good sleep hygiene?
What exactly is sleep, and how is it that you get tired and fall asleep at night?
And why does one person have so much trouble getting up while the other jumps out of bed with telling ease?
Let's start by establishing what sleep is exactly...
The most concise yet complete description of sleep consists of 2 elements:
State of lowered consciousness
Sleep doesn't mean you're off the world for a random eight hours.
This is because your brain is not on standby but actively engaged in various processes. In your sleep, you go through different cycles and phases.
We divide sleep into 2 main types:
We go through blocks of about an hour and a half during the night, in which these 4 types of sleep keep recurring and alternating.
Such a block is called a sleep cycle, and each of these 4 sleep phases has a different function for the body and brain.
Optimal functioning is only possible with sufficient sleep
When did you actually get enough sleep and can we speak of a so-called good sleep hygiene? Well, actually, the answer is quite simple...
If you have slept enough, you are rested and full of energy to start the day.
Good sleep hygiene is when you've slept enough and you don't need a strong espresso or coffee in the morning to stay awake and don't tend to take a short nap during the day.
If you need one of those things, you haven't slept enough at night!
And this personal sense of practice is a more important gauge than the actual number of hours you sleep at night.
Good to know: Not everyone needs the same number of hours of sleep.
Sleep times depend on:
And by the way, your sleep times and duration also vary with age!
12 benefits of good sleep hygiene and going to bed on time
- 1Healthy for the heart and blood vessels
- 2Lowers the risk of (chronic) diseases
- 3Reduces the risk of depression and anxiety
- 4Strengthens the natural defenses and immune system
- 5More energy and motivation during the day
- 6Better sleep quality while sleeping
- 7Lower chance of accidents in traffic
- 8You are less likely to develop overweight or obesity
- 9You develop and encourage sharper thinking skills
- 10Positive feelings and an overall happier feeling
- 11You feel more attractive and you radiate this as well
- 12It improves your memory
Our biorhythm is decisive for good sleep hygiene
Like all living things, human beings have a day and night rhythm.
We call this mechanism the biological clock or biorhythm.
This biological clock is an internal clock that regulates our sleep schedule and determines when your body is ready to sleep and when you will naturally wake up again.
The biorhythm is influenced by light and dark, i.e., by day and night.
Daylight aligns your biological clock with the day and night rhythms of the time zone in which you live, causing you to sleep at night and be awake during the day.
Did you know that about 90% of people sleep between 11pm and 7am?
Measure your own biorhythm
How can you possibly know what your normal sleep time is? In other words, how do you find out which sleep type you are?
Well, that's easy to figure out over a week during spring or fall.
Then the times of sunrise and sunset are average, meaning there is no extended daylight as in summer nor long periods of darkness as in winter.
During that week, remove all electronic devices and screens such as TV, PC, tablet, laptop, and smartphones from your bedroom.
Avoid all screens in the bedroom, put them away all week, and important: Don't set an alarm clock either.
Have your last meal early in the evening. You'll find you get tired after dinner when it gets dark outside. You may feel free to read a book in conjunction with moderate light. And if you get sleepy, you should immediately give in to that and go to bed.
Most people don't wake up for the first few nights until after 10 or 11 hours of sleep. That long sleep duration is probably caused by sleep deprivation accumulated in the weeks or months prior.
Usually, this is over after 3 to 4 days; the remaining nights are shorter and of equal duration.
And it is then that you know the optimal time for you to go to bed and go to sleep, as well as your optimal sleep duration and time of awakening.
In other words, at that point, you know your personal biorhythm. You will then know if you are an early or late sleeper and how much sleep you need in practice!
Choosing the right bed for maximum sleep comfort is important
We spend about a third of our lives sleeping. And yet, many people still don't think enough about the importance of a sound sleep environment.
However, a good night's sleep and good sleeping posture can prevent many physical and mental problems.
Sufficient rest is also crucial for your back
About 75 to 80% of all Americans experience severe back pain at least once in their lives. And about 10% of them also develop chronic back pain.
Often a poor night's sleep, and more specifically a bed of substandard quality, is partly to blame for these problems.
Thus, sleeping correctly is essential to minimize the risk of back pain.
As our (plus-size) reader, learn all about the anatomical, ergonomic, and physiological aspects of the body and sleep through our articles below:
Thanks to several helpful tips, you will learn to optimize your sleep quality and quantity.
In any case, good and bad sleepers will have no more problems choosing the right bed after reading this information.
You will get clear answers to important questions such as:
External stimuli affecting our sleep
The biological clock in your brain is influenced by and takes its cues from external factors.
Some examples are exercise, meals, light, and rest, which all provide information to our built-in biological clock.
This provides our brains with information about day and night and makes some adjustments to the biological clock as necessary.
In this way, these external stimuli keep the biological clock in sync with the time zone we live in. However, there are also external stimuli that actually disrupt our biological clock.
Consider, for example, certain stimulants such as caffeine that fool our sleepiness, to the detriment of sleep pressure.
In addition, there are also variants of dangerous drugs such as XTC, speed, and cocaine that give more energy and therefore also disrupt our sleep.
Alcohol and smoking are lesser-known external stimuli that negatively affect our sleep.
Below we briefly review the primary external stimuli that promote or undermine healthy sleep:
Movement and rest
Physical and mental exertion during the day are healthy stimuli for the biological clock. And too little physical and mental activity during the day can disrupt your biorhythm.
For example, exercising in the morning causes you to be active the rest of the day and tired in the evening. This allows you to fall asleep much more easily.
Good to know: In the evening, a relatively quiet activity encourages a good night's sleep. Exercising in the evening can delay sleep. This is not only because of its impact on the biological clock but also because of the heat generation and mental activation resulting from exercise.
Namely, after a significant exertion, it takes several hours for the body temperature to drop. After exercise, your core temperature is high, so it takes longer to sleep.
Excitement, such as watching an exciting game on television, can also keep you awake.
Tip: Moderate exercise without going too deep, where the skin gets warm, but the core temperature does not rise too much, can help with falling asleep. The blood vessels in the skin then open up, allowing your body to cool properly.
Light is the strongest external stimulus for our sleep
The most potent stimulus for our biological clock is light.
In particular, natural morning light appears to be the most important stimulus for getting the biological clock back on time each day.
Light stimulates our light-sensitive cells in the retina. They relay information about the type and amount of light to our biological clock.
These body cells are most sensitive to the blue-green spectrum of light, which is the color of morning light.
Good to know: We also have nerves in our bodies that monitor the pupil diameter and thus transmit information to the master clock about the amount of light.
In fact, the amount of light in the morning determines how much time you have to function during the day. This usually is about 66% of 24 hours (about 16 hours).
Tip: Aim for a big difference between lots of (bluish) light in the morning and little (warm) light in the evening.
In this way, the difference between morning and evening is most evident, and your built-in biological clock can function optimally as a result.
Good to know: A few light flashes during the night have already been shown to affect the biological clock of healthy sleeping subjects. Put another way, very little light is needed to turn the wake-up system back on.
Artificial light and screens, for example, are notorious light disruptors. Light from monitors, for example, is blue-green, as is morning light.
So it directly signals your biological clock: your clock is on alert, melatonin production is inhibited, and you become more awake.
So if there is a lot of artificial light in the evening or night, it sends the wrong signal to your biological clock and gets disrupted.
Just checking your emails or reading the news on your tablet or smartphone in bed gives off so many wake-up signals that it can delay sleep.
Beware: Also, waking up at night and taking a quick look at your cell phone can quickly cause you to lose sleep.
And on top of that comes the daily stress and strain of games, movies, series, and work...
All of this results in later bedtimes and poorer sleep quality.
In the long run, this can lead to a vicious cycle because people who can't sleep regularly look at screens to stave off boredom or worry.
Other people and/or inadequate infrastructure
Nothing is more annoying than sleeping in a bedroom with other people and being tortured by continuous creaking and squeaking noises from the bed frame, the mattress base, the legs of the bed, and so on.
We're not even talking about the nuisance that snorers can cause! This is about poor sleep infrastructure that can ruin the quality of your sleep.
Examples are shared sleeping quarters of businesses, youth hostels, bed and breakfasts, and short-let vacation rentals.
These are very often equipped with bunk beds which, firstly, can create a claustrophobic effect and, secondly, are often not designed to support an (overweight) adult without difficulty...
Does this issue bother you? Then be sure and read our articles on bunk beds for adults.
And discover, among other things, how to find a suitable heavy-duty bunk bed that can support even heavier people without making annoying creaking noises (which could be an indication of an overload):
Eating habits and meals affecting good sleep hygiene
Your diet also has a considerable impact on your wake and sleep rhythms.
Regular eating supports our biorhythm, and an ideal eating pattern consists of three meals a day at set times.
Fixed eating times give regularity to your biological clock, keeping the metabolism balanced.
Good to know: Eating at different times with many irregular snacks in between, on the other hand, causes significant ambiguity for your biological clock, which is detrimental to your metabolism.
Eating late also has a detrimental effect on your sleep because by dining late, your intestines and digestion become active, causing your body to warm up slightly.
Put another way, if you eat late at night, it will be harder to fall asleep because your body temperature needs to decrease first.
Late eating makes you gain weight
Eating late makes it easier to gain weight, resulting in a risk of overweight and obesity.
Our biological clock regulates the energy balance in our bodies. Hormones such as insulin have a specific rhythm that ensures that sugar enters the blood at the right time and is converted into energy for the brain and muscles.
However, suppose you eat snacks between meals or eat late in the evening or at night. Then unfortunately, these sugars are not converted into energy or used to create energy reserves in the brain and muscles.
Instead, these sugars can end up in the wrong places, such as in the fatty tissue in and around your belly, causing you to gain weight.
Your body temperature also has its own rhythm, the impact of which on good sleep hygiene should certainly not be underestimated.
In the evening and night, the skin temperature of your hands and feet rises, and your core body temperature drops.
When falling asleep, the core and skin temperatures are about the same.
Your core temperature then drops to a minimum in the middle of the night.
Then, your body's core temperature rises again from morning to midday.
Manipulating sleep with heat or cold
The drop in your body temperature is essential for falling asleep and sleeping well.
When your body temperature can't be lowered, it takes longer to get to sleep, and you also wake up more often. Possible causes are, for example, a heat wave, a down comforter or sleeping bag that is too warm, or exercising strenuously in the evening.
By the way: People with cold hands and feet also have more difficulty falling asleep, primarily women.
Take care when showering and taking a bath
Taking a hot bath at least an hour before bedtime raises your core temperature but still leaves enough time to lose the heat again through the skin.
You can also take a brief hot shower right before bed. Then your skin warms up, but the short exposure to the hot water is not enough to raise your core temperature.
The blood vessels in your skin open up due to the heat, allowing your core temperature to drop. As a result, you become sleepy, which is precisely what you need to sleep well.
Both strategies are suitable for washing in the evening without compromising your sleep.
However, suppose you lie in a hot bath for an extended period just before bedtime or shower under hot water for too long. In that case, you do increase your core temperature.
Falling asleep then becomes a lot more difficult because your core temperature has risen due to the warm water, while your body temperature needs to drop first before feeling sleepy.
Wake and sleep rhythms
Your biological clock regulates not only your sleep but also the proper cooperation of the individual rhythms of other organs such as the intestines, liver, and skin.
Our built-in biological clock needs regularity and can only function properly if there are set times and a fixed pattern of going to bed and getting up.
Beware: When the wake-sleep rhythm varies (meaning you go to bed and get up irregularly), this built-in biological clock doesn't work as well or may even stop working altogether.
As a result, all the rhythms of various organ systems will unfortunately also be disrupted. This can have severe physical and mental consequences in the medium to long term!
Beware during vacations and city trips
Nothing is more exciting and enriching for the mind than exploring the world! And it doesn't always have to be in great luxury!
Some of you may sometimes grab a city trip or extended weekend (YOLO, right?) and arrange one or more nights with friends or family who live in the area.
As such, you can save money, strengthen the bonds of friendship, and learn a lot from these locals (perfect for getting the most out of your trip in terms of sights and great places to eat and drink).
But, unfortunately, it's not always rosy:
- Your night's rest may be a little shorter than usual (think about having a nightcap at the local bar after dinner to soak up the atmosphere).
- And your sleep may also be of lower quality because the bed you sleep in may look more like a camping bed than a hotel bed... (but in all fairness we should say that some really good types of camping beds are also available).
For example, sleeping on an air mattress is not exceptional because not every family has a spare room with an extra bed available.
Do you recognize the above story? Or do you have visitors who would certainly appreciate an overnight stay with you?
If so, be sure to read our detailed information on adult air mattresses and how to select and use them as a plus-size user:
Factors disrupting good sleep hygiene
The best-known drug that disrupts sleep is, of course, coffee.
A delicious cup of coffee is fine in the morning but not advisable for the late afternoon or evening when you need to make sure you get to sleep smoothly.
The stronger the coffee, the more it suppresses our sleep.
Energy drinks are also notorious for high amounts of caffeine.
Good to know: Some painkillers, such as variants of paracetamol, also contain caffeine and have a stimulating effect.
By the way, black tea also contains caffeine, even though it is about 3 times less than regular coffee.
German and Chinese scientific research on the influence of smoking on sleep has shown clearly and unequivocally that smoking negatively influences sleep.
Smokers, on average, sleep worse and less long than nonsmokers. So quitting smoking can significantly improve your sleep quality (besides other benefits such as the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, lung disease, and cancer).
Smoking is perceived by smokers as relaxing because it temporarily removes the withdrawal symptoms caused by the need for nicotine.
But in reality, smoking tobacco actually has a stimulating effect on the body. In fact, smoking causes an increased heart rate and a rise in blood pressure.
Thus, the energy level in the human body increases, and nicotine also stimulates brain function.
All these side effects of smoking just make you stay awake longer and don't allow you to fall asleep as easily.
So smoking seems relaxing at first, but nothing could be further from the truth when you consider the harmful effects of smoking on sleep.
That caffeine or other stimulating foods like chocolate can trigger insomnia is something almost everyone knows by now.
But alcohol is less known to be harmful and bad for our sleep.
Numerous scientific studies have clearly shown that alcohol strongly impacts the quality of all sleep stages.
Drinking a nightcap may make you sleep a little faster, but it comes with a catch...
Alcohol inhibits the depth of sleep, so you wake up faster and are not rested in the morning.
Alcohol also suppresses REM sleep, which in turn causes you to miss out on essential memory consolidation processes.
In addition, alcohol has a diuretic effect, meaning you wake up more often at night because you need to pee.
Interesting and curious fact: The effect of alcohol can last as long as 8 to 10 hours, so you can be sure to wake up the next day feeling tired.
As a rule of thumb, you can say that it takes 1 to 1.5 hours for a glass (or unit) of alcohol to disappear from the body through the natural processes of breakdown.
Additional fact: Consuming 1 glass of alcohol a day is already harmful to your sleep. And even if you only consume alcohol on the weekend, it is detrimental to your sleep.
Consuming a lot of alcohol on the weekend even harms your sleep for days. Chances are you have already experienced this firsthand in practice!
By the time all the effects of the alcohol consumption have worn off, the following weekend is already approaching...
All the above is not just a problem because alcohol is unhealthy... It's also a problem because of the health damage caused by the additional chronic sleep deprivation that results from alcohol consumption.
Medication and sleep aids
Sleep medication, as well as medication for other diseases, can negatively impact sleep.
For example, medication for high blood pressure can cause insomnia and bad dreams.
And seemingly harmless sleep aids may cause chronic fatigue while the user thinks the symptoms are caused by disturbed sleep...