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How much sleep is healthy?

How much sleep is healthy? Tips and insights from sleep research

Until the 1950s, it was thought that people completely shut down their brain and body during sleep to recover from what they had experienced. Today we know that sleep is healthy and an active activity for the body. As soon as we close our eyes, the body really starts to work. How, where and for how long we sleep is therefore not at all irrelevant. Because it is precisely in these seemingly calm moments that the head and body are working at full speed. But how much sleep is healthy? How can we sleep better? And how does sleep affect our physical and mental well-being?

Why sleep is healthy for our brain

During the night, the brain restores information that was not deeply rooted during the day - such as the password you were determined to remember. Experts call this consolidation. This is important to protect against further loss of information and to increase our ability to learn while awake. It can even improve our language skills and hand-eye coordination.

Why sleep is healthy for the heart and breathing

Conveniently, the body also saves energy while sleeping, which means that sleep has a healthy and calming effect on the body. The body temperature drops by almost ten percent. The heart also recovers from the hard work during the day - it is allowed to beat more slowly at night. This lowers blood pressure and our breathing, which changes its rhythm several times a day, also becomes regular and calm during sleep.

Why sleep is healthy for our consciousness

In fact, the brain remains highly active during sleep. It has to perform many functions so that we are fully operational again the next day. For example, at night it is busy breaking down toxic by-products that have accumulated during the day. Spinal fluid is pumped through the brain faster when we are asleep. This works like a hoover, removing waste products like molecular debris and toxic proteins that can lead to dementia over time. We wake up fresh and cleansed.

Why sleep is healthy for regeneration

While we sleep, our body releases growth hormones that rebuild our stressed muscles and repair damaged tissues. As a result, sleep has a healthy and regenerative effect on the body - as long as we get a good night's sleep regularly. Tension, even chronic pain, can be relieved.

How much sleep is healthy:

Every person is unique and has an individual need for sleep. Regardless of whether you are a short sleeper or a long sleeper: as long as you wake up refreshed, everything is good; however, this does not necessarily have anything to do with the length of sleep, but rather depends on the quality. Too little sleep is not good - many a "high performer" in the working world still believes that the price of success must be little sleep. But too much sleep is not good either, as this can upset our sleep rhythm. But what does it take to jump out of bed in the morning fresh and fit and full of energy? How much sleep is healthy?

Those who do not allow themselves enough good sleep quickly suffer from sleep deprivation; as a result, physical and mental performance decreases. With good, deep sleep, on the other hand, all the physical processes that allow regeneration take place: the immune system and the skin can recover and find new strength. Growth hormones are released and strengthen the bones and muscles. And our brain processes all impressions - which sometimes causes dreaming, even if we can remember a dream. These brain activities, which are perceived as dreams, only take place in the REM phase, the fifth stage in the sleep cycle. Many people do not even reach this stage - at the expense of mental regeneration.

Now: How much sleep is healthy? Since it is not primarily about sleep duration but about sleep quality, the sleep cycle must be considered. This can be divided into the non-REM phases and the REM phases:

REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement - a term for the characteristic rapid eye movement that occurs during the REM phase of the sleep cycle. Dreaming takes place in this phase - a stage in the sleep cycle in which the brain processes the impressions from the day in order to regenerate. Before a person can enter the fifth stage of the sleep cycle, the first four non-REM phases must first be passed through.

The non-REM phases consist of four stages: two phases of falling asleep, also called light sleep phases, followed by two deep sleep phases. In the deep sleep phases, the body regenerates from the efforts of the day. Therefore, these phases should not be disturbed; they are essential for humans. The individual phases change approximately every 90 minutes. If the relationship of the phases to each other is harmonious, we can speak of good sleep quality. With restless sleep, people often do not get beyond the light sleep phase. The result: you wake up "contrite" and exhausted. However, if the sleep cycle is good, the person gets by with less sleep time.

Nevertheless, sleep duration also plays an important role - albeit secondary. Therefore, the question is justified: How much sleep is healthy? An infant needs about 16 hours of sleep, an adolescent about 9 hours and for adults 7 to 8 hours are enough. However, there are also variations here; 6 or 9 hours can be normal for adults. The need for sleep is variable, because it depends to a large extent on the daily stress.

Anyone who feels stressed and chronically tired, experiences a lack of concentration and feels cognitively weak during work can assume that a lack of sleep is the cause. But too much sleep can also lead to overtiredness: Those who exhaust their sleep optimum several nights in a row wake up more and more often in the following nights, spend a lot of time half asleep and feel all the more exhausted afterwards. Incidentally, it is a myth that you can catch up on sleep or even sleep in advance. Every person has an internal clock; if you mess up your sleep rhythm, you pay with your sleep quality. So: how much sleep is healthy? The quality of sleep and the sleep rhythm are decisive, not the duration.

How much sleep is healthy? Or: Tips for sleeping better

Evening rituals can help you get to sleep more easily and improve it. Don't worry, it's not a big effort: a few small changes in the daily routine can have a big effect.

If you always go to bed and get up at the same time, even on weekends, you stabilise your inner clock and ensure peaceful nights. Those who consistently keep this up will decisively improve their sleep quality.

To signal to the body that it is bedtime and to stimulate melatonin production, dim the lights and draw the curtains.

Those who like to bathe in the evening can add lavender oil to the bath water. The beautiful plant from the Mediterranean region soothes the body and senses. There are also lavender scented oils or body lotions that have the same effect.

Some people like to drink another glass of warm milk or herbal tea before going to bed. This is also a calming evening ritual. Many people find it helpful to pick up a good book after a hard day - an old-fashioned one made of paper.

No matter what ritual you choose - reading books, listening to soothing music or taking a warm bath - if you perform the same relaxing ritual every evening, it signals to your body that it's time to get quiet. Taboo are TV, laptop, tablet or smartphone - they can cause the opposite.

Lying in bed, unable to fall asleep and always staring at the clock can be so stressful that it makes it even harder to fall asleep. It is better to turn the clock around in the bedroom so that you don't keep looking at it. If you still haven't fallen asleep after 20 minutes, it's best to get up and do something quiet like reading the newspaper or writing a diary until you feel tired.

Here are our top 3 relaxation tricks to help conjure up sleep:

  1. Yoga
    Yoga devotees swear by the power of the breath. One can calm oneself very well through slowed conscious breathing. The yoga breath goes like this: inhale deeply through the nose and exhale completely through the mouth. What also helps: lie on your left side and gently squeeze the right nostril shut, then slowly inhale and exhale through the left nostril.
  2. Progressive muscle relaxation
    Sometimes tension helps to relax completely. That is the principle behind progressive muscle relaxation. You lie down comfortably, curl your toes and hold the tension for a moment. Then you relax them again. Next, you tense your calf muscles and relax them again. This is how you work your way up the body, tensing body parts for a moment and then relaxing them again. By the time you reach the shoulders, you have usually fallen asleep.
  3. Acupressure
    Certain acupressure points in the body can also help you fall asleep. You should know these three: the spot between the eyebrows where the nose begins, the notch between the big toe and the second toe and the spot just below the toenail of the big toe. You hold these places down for 20 seconds each.

Conclusion: How much sleep is healthy? Or: What kind of sleep is healthy?

The quality of sleep, not the quantity, is decisive. It is mostly external factors and habits that make quality sleep possible in the first place. However, many myths circulate that are nonsense: Bad sleep at full moon, better sleep with alcohol; in fact, it's all about the inner clock and proper, mental and physical relaxation. Those who develop healthy habits that allow the body and mind a regular period of regeneration will go through life much more rested and healthy. This starts with learning to "switch off" properly, listening to the body and respecting or cultivating bed rest. A good mattress and bed linen are also important factors that make sleeping comfortable in the first place. If you don't sleep well, you won't get anything out of even the best tips. How much sleep is healthy? You decide.