Dossier: Stress and relaxation

Sleep better

Having a restful night’s sleep is essential for our well-being, mental health and recovery. But what makes a good night’s sleep? Is it something we’re capable of learning? And do power naps really help us to recuperate? Sleep expert Philipp Keller has a few tips.

Interview: Isabelle Fretz; Photo: Vladislav Muskalov / Unsplash

Mr Keller, how exactly does sleep work?

Philipp Keller: Sleep experts have identified four stages of sleep: light, fairly light, deep sleep and REM, which all make up a single cycle. This cycle is repeated several times a night.

What happens to our bodies when we’re asleep?

The muscles relax, our breathing and heart rate slow down, our brains have to the time to recover, file and process everything that has happened during the day. Sleep is vital for our well-being.

“Most people feel best after seven to nine hours sleep.”
Philipp Keller

Is there any truth to the myth that only those who manage eight hours of sleep a night will feel rested the next day?

No, everyone differs when it comes to how much sleep they need. Although most people feel best after seven to nine hours sleep. Exactly how long you need to sleep for in order to wake up feeling refreshed is something everyone has to find out for themselves – and it’s important to be honest with yourself, too.

And what about the claim that you only sleep well if you have an uninterrupted night’s sleep?

Simply not true. Restful sleep can also be interrupted by short periods of wakefulness that we don’t normally remember the next morning. We only talk about insomnia when you are unable to go back to sleep after waking up in the night.

“Even the risk of dementia increases for those suffering from a chronic sleep disorder.”
Philipp Keller

Only 4 hours sleep a night, week in, week out. How can you recover from this lack of sleep?

If you are one of the very few who feel rested after just 4 to 5 hours sleep, then that’s ok. But for most people this simply isn’t enough, and they’re not able to catch up on their sleep. This can result in high blood pressure, migraines, depression or irritability. And you’re more likely to suffer from dementia if you have a chronic sleep disorder.

Is it possible to reduce this risk by practising good sleep habits?

It is possible to train yourself to sleep better. The first step is recognising you have a problem and motivating yourself to do something about it. The second step focuses on good sleep hygiene, such as keeping the bedroom dark, choosing a suitable mattress or eating light meals in the evening. The key is maintaining a good, regular internal body clock.

“Power naps shouldn’t last longer than 30 minutes. ”
Philipp Keller

Is the 20-minute power nap the secret weapon against tiredness?

Experienced power nappers wake up feeling refreshed after only ten to twelve minutes. You shouldn’t take a power nap for longer than 30 minutes. Research has proven that a power nap can be beneficial for giving you an energy boost. The ideal time to get some quick shut-eye is after lunch between 1 and 2 o’clock.

And, last but not least, are there any tricks that might help us doze off?

There’s no real insider tip unfortunately. Some might find watching a Rosamunde Pilcher film has the desired effect, others may find stroking their cat helps. In fact, cats are true professionals when it comes to sleep. Or maybe a cup of tea or a good book will do the trick. Everyone has to find out for themselves what works.

The interviewee

Dr Philipp Keller completed his medical training in Marburg, Innsbruck, Munich and Tübingen. He was stationed as a field doctor for Médecins sans frontières (Doctors without Borders) in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006. He has worked for the Medbase Medbase Sports Medical Center in Zurich since 2017.