The pace of life, stress, the use of electronic devices until late at night… There are many daily factors that make it difficult for us to have a sleep that, in addition to being long enough, is really restorative. Having enough time to dedicate to sleep is not everything. We must also prepare ourselves for this time by carrying out activities in keeping with it; and we must ensure that the environment is appropriate.
TEXT: CRISTINA BISBAL
Getting rest is not only a pleasure, it is essential for maintaining a good state of health, but if we look at some national and global data, we might think that few people indulge in this habit. The WHO estimates that 40% of the world’s population suffers from a sleep disorder, while the Spanish Society of Neurology estimates that between 20% and 48% of the adult population in Spain has difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep. Of these cases, at least 10% involve a chronic and serious sleep disorder.
In Spain, perhaps because we enjoy so many hours of daylight alongside our evening cultural customs, we are very prone to sleeping fewer hours than recommended by The National Sleep Foundation, in other words between 7 and 9. “In our country we sleep around six and a half hours, which is well below the European average”, says María José Martínez Madrid, a doctor, member of the Spanish Sleep Society, and cofounder of Kronohealth, a circadian consultancy company.
This continued lack of sleep has a direct impact on people’s state of health, as the WHO explained in the conclusions of its 2004 technical meeting on Sleep and Health: “The main effects of sleep deprivation are physical (drowsiness, fatigue, hypertension), cognitive impairment (impaired performance, attention and motivation; decreased mental concentration and intellectual capacity and increased likelihood of accidents at work and while driving) and mental health complications.”
The most restorative phase of sleep
Specifically, it is known that the REM phase is the most “restorative”, as it is the phase that best prepares you for the following day and the one that consolidates memory. Martínez Madrid explains that “While we sleep, the waste substances produced by our brain during the day are swept away. In other words, at night, ‘the sweepers come and clean our brain’ so that we can start the day anew. If this sweeping does not take place, toxic substances can accumulate that are related to the development of diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.” This means that getting the right amount of rest is a matter that should be taken much more seriously than at present.
Our pace of life is one of the causes of poor rest among Spaniards, but not the only one: “We tend to go to bed later than we should”, says Martínez Madrid, “because we tend to shift our activity, meal times, and use of devices that emit blue light to later at night.” The environment is often not the most suitable either, with light, noise, heat or distractions like cell phones or the TV. The consequence of all this is that our so-called “micro-awakenings” become longer, leading to what the doctor calls “fragmented and shallow sleep”, or poor quality sleep.
40 % OF THE GLOBAL POPULATIONS SUFFERS SLEEP DISORDERS
In fact, it is not only the number of hours that is important, but also the quality of our sleep. And there is still a considerable lack of knowledge and awareness in this area, as the chronobiology specialist explains: “The importance of sleep is increasingly taken into account, but not the time at which it occurs, nor the affects of day and night.” Indeed, each activity should be done at the right time: “For example, if we have to exercise but we don’t have time, we tend to subtract this from our sleep hours, or we do it at a time of day when we should already be preparing for sleep, delaying our bedtime and reducing both the hours and the quality of sleep.”
Goodbye to vamping
The other major, and increasingly important, handicap to a good sleep habit is related to the use and abuse of electronic devices at night, the so-called vamping. The culprit that causes us to lose sleep is the blue light they emit, because “They directly affect the circadian system, telling our brain that it is time to wake up and get going. This is because they work on the genes that control the biological clock, triggering the expression of those responsible for activity and wakefulness; but they also inhibit melatonin, a hormone necessary for a deep and restful sleep”, which the brain secretes during the night, in the dark. In fact, it does not secrete it during the day, in the light, and it has immunoprotective and antioxidant functions. For this reason, experts recommend turning off cell phones, tablets and computers at least 60 minutes before going to sleep, although 120 minutes would be ideal.
According to Kronohealth’s sleep expert, the synchronization of the biological clock is one of the keys to enjoying sufficient and restful sleep, and the use of devices can damage or break that clock. So can shift work and night shifts, which can lead to the so-called shift worker syndrome (SWD); and social jetlag, i.e., that produced by changes in weekend schedules with respect to weekdays and related to nighttime social life or to something as simple as delaying the time we get up on Saturdays and Sundays to compensate for the fatigue accumulated from sleep deprivation on Monday to Friday. All this means that “the internal clock in our body, which works like an old-fashioned wind-up clock that has to be set every day”, can become damaged.
In Spain, perhaps because we enjoy so many hours of daylight alongside our evening cultural customs, we are very prone to sleeping fewer hours than recommended
Tips for adjusting your biological clock
Tips for adjusting your biological clock
- Be regular. Have a regular schedule, not only for when you go to bed or get up, but also for meals, daily exercise, etc.
- Make a distinction between day and night. We must try to mark the difference between these two daily periods. “The day should be characterized by activity, exposure to light and social contacts, but the night should be silent, dark and distraction-free.” And the cell phone can definitely be a distraction. For this reason, Beatriz Rodríguez Morilla, a psychologist specializing in neuroscience and an expert in circadian rhythms, advises you not to look at your phone when suffering an episode of insomnia, even to find out the time.
- Synchronization between the three clocks that mark our daily schedules: “The internal one, marked genetically; the social one, marked by our work schedules and social contacts; and the environmental one, determined by the pattern of light and darkness. These three clocks should keep the same time; this would be a sign of good synchronization. If they don’t, this can give rise to what is known as chronodisruption. This is responsible for the development and aggravation of many disorders and diseases”, says Martínez Madrid.
Fundación MAPFRE workshops
Aware that rest is one of the main tools for preventing physical and psychological risks and, incidentally, being more productive, this is one of the workshops organized periodically by Fundación MAPFRE’s health promotion area to help companies promote healthy habits among their employees. These eminently practical workshops, which cover topics related to emotional wellbeing, physical activity and nutrition, are given free of charge in companies through the Choose to Live Better program.