Relaxologist-sophrologist Olivier Follin, sleep specialist, reveals some keys to sleeping soundly.
Many people suffer from sleep disorders. If certain pathologies require consultation, a healthy lifestyle is sometimes enough to dispel temporary difficulties.
Is the quantity of sleep as important as its quality?
Olivier Follin: What matters is not so much the number of hours of sleep as the feeling when I wake up: do I feel rested? There are rare profiles of short sleepers content with five or six hours of sleep. But the vast majority need seven to nine hours.
Electricity has introduced a small revolution into our rhythms of life. In the last century, we lit with candles and kerosene lamps. In a France that was still very rural, the evening did not last forever: midnight really represented the middle of the night. Today, TV programs start at 9 p.m. The French go to bed around 11 p.m. But quality of sleep takes precedence over quantity.
What are the consequences of lack of sleep?
A slight debt does not pose a problem, on the contrary: fatigue makes it easier to fall asleep the next day. Let’s not be dramatic, just because you didn’t sleep well one night doesn’t mean the week is wasted! The problem lies in the repetition of short nights. Chronic debt then sets in. This deficit has a direct impact on mood, and therefore on social life: irritability, nervousness, concentration problems. It also affects the ability to reason. If you work behind a desk, you won’t be very efficient. But if you are a bus driver or air traffic controller, reduced alertness and falling asleep can have fatal consequences.
In this case, a nap would be welcome. Under what conditions is it restorative?
After a meal, digestion causes a rush of blood into the intestines, to the detriment of the brain, which explains the appearance of drowsiness. Early afternoon is therefore the ideal time for a nap. But be careful: a nap is beneficial if it does not exceed fifteen minutes. Because if we do a full sleep cycle (60 to 90 minutes), waking up is difficult, we are “muddy” and not very alert. Whereas after a restful sleep, our efficiency doubles. If you cannot sleep during the day, one way to regenerate yourself is to take a break for a few minutes, closing your eyes and completely relaxing your body.
Does sleep change with age?
From the age of 40 onwards, sleep becomes less deep, and therefore less restorative. In adulthood, it is often more disrupted in women than in men, particularly due to the menstrual cycle and its hormonal variations. During menopause, some people wake up in the middle of the night because of hot flashes. As for those over 75, 40% of them complain about their sleep. Insomnia is more frequent, its management is often poorly adapted, and the prescription of sleeping pills is more important.
What about teenagers?
With young people, the problem arises more from too great a difference in rhythm between the week and the weekend. After a well-started night, even sleepless on Friday and/or Saturday, they sleep until 2 p.m. on Sunday to recover. And don’t get sleepy at night. Hence Mondays that don’t sing!
Does a healthy lifestyle affect our nights?
One of the keys to sleeping well is to exercise physically during the day. Our sedentary lifestyle means that we sit from morning to evening: behind a desk, on public transport or in the car. However, the more we exert ourselves physically, the more the need to recover is felt, the more intense and deep the sleep will be. Thirty minutes of daily physical activity is recommended. It introduces a contrast between the day when we are active, physically and intellectually, and the evening when we become passive, where we slow down, in order to peacefully approach the night. It also helps relieve some nervous tension. Sport is one of the best antidepressants. It secretes endorphins, the hormones of well-being, and serotonin, the hormone of good humor.
One of the keys to sleeping well is to exercise physically during the day.
In your book I sleep badly! First aid guide for quality sleep you also emphasize the importance of exposing yourself to daylight. For what ?
The sun plays a vital role in our internal clock. Thanks to its action on the hypothalamus, it sends an awakening signal, while darkness sends a sleep message. However, in winter, the metropolis suffers from a lack of light, which can influence the synchronization of the internal clock. If light therapy remains expensive, everyone can try to expose themselves to outside light as much as possible, particularly by going out during their lunch break, for those who work. Indoors, favor places located near light. Why not consider enlarging a window or opening a bay window? Finally, do not hesitate to install tubes or compact fluorescent bulbs which diffuse a whiter light, closer to that of daylight. It energizes without harming or tiring the eyes like neon lights whose slight flashing provides an unpleasant sensation in the long run.
How to unwind at the end of the day?
When we come home in the evening, I invite you to put on a casual outfit or slippers. Some people don’t even take the time. Now symbolically this means: “I am putting aside my work and I will resume it tomorrow”. Most insomniacs are unable to break down barriers in this way: they live with their files all the time, including at night.
Some advice for the evening?
The later we dine, the more we delay falling asleep. The ideal would be to eat at least two hours before going to bed. The saying is true: breakfast for a king, lunch for a prince, dinner for a poor man. To avoid slowing down digestion, it will benefit from being light, without dishes with sauces, oil-based dishes, and very little alcohol: one glass, no more. Alcohol helps you fall asleep, but it dehydrates and causes interrupted sleep, or even waking up due to thirst. As much as possible, it is also better to avoid screens (television, computer, games console) before going to sleep: the flow of images stimulates the brain.
By its repetitive side, a ritual triggers a kind of conditioning. It’s up to everyone to adapt it, according to their tastes. The goal is to slow down, especially in the last half hour. This can involve a lukewarm shower (too hot, it would increase the body temperature, which on the contrary needs to decrease). Contrary to popular belief, it is better to reserve the hot shower for the morning. Or a twenty-minute bath, preferably before a meal, with all the salts and soothing scents you want.
We can go around the house to turn off the lights, close doors and shutters, kiss the children: a way of providing security. Bring a book that you won’t regret reading. An even deeper experience, meditation brings calm, balance and inner peace.
It’s hard to relax when you’re worried about having a bad night. How to calm down?
Most mentally go over their day: “I forgot to send this email, I need to buy this, did I tell him this?” » Now to fall asleep, an essential condition is to have nothing in mind, to be like a completely deflated hot air balloon on the ground. In extreme cases, some people put such pressure on themselves that falling asleep becomes impossible: “Will I manage to close my eyes? Will I be in good shape tomorrow? Plus, I have an important meeting” If this pattern is repeated, a vicious circle emerges.
To relax, there is an arsenal of techniques: provide a paper and pencil on your bedside table in order to establish a “to-do list”: this involves writing down everything that worries you. You can also count the sheep backwards to clear your mind. Or even focus on parts of your body that you feel getting heavier one by one: the legs, the arms, the head;
What if that’s not enough?
Many introverts, who struggle to vent their emotions, operate in an auditory mode, particularly in the evening. During the day, they don’t have much time to listen to that little voice in their head that constantly speaks. But in the evening, they are literally assailed with worries, doubts, regrets, reproaches. To break this phenomenon, you need to switch to visual mode.
In relaxation, I use the technique of mental imagery. You just have to imagine a picture. For some, this exercise proves very difficult. I recommend a calming and neutral image, like a known or imagined landscape: forest, river, desert, mountain. At first it appears and disappears. By making it reappear, the flash gradually becomes a small sequence, then a large sequence. When it stabilizes, it’s won. As with a painting, the more you look at it, the more details appear. If we are “caught” by this image, we disconnect from our tensions, we let go of our worries. And when we manage to “navigate” within it, the sleeping pill becomes useless, because it is already a form of daydreaming.
You also emphasize the importance of breathing. An exercise accessible to everyone?
As a general rule, we don’t breathe very well: we inhale too much and don’t exhale enough. This is “clavicular” breathing, which remains high, at shoulder level. But small inspirations do not fill the lungs enough. Conversely, a deep inspiration fills the entire rib cage. When playing the abdomen, all the inspired air is used. Better oxygenation provides immediate relaxation.
To find the right gesture, lie down and place your hand on your stomach. It is he who must inflate first, then your lungs. Try the four-step breathing exercise: inhale slowly, remain in apnea – you can hold for up to twenty seconds: the more you practice, the easier it is – then exhale deeply and wait at least two seconds before to start again.
Practicing this type of breathing in the evening replaces all our thoughts. Concentrated on their breathing and its effects, the person feels well-being, relaxes, yawns… sleep is not far away!