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What types of sleep are there?

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 313 views

Early in bed and early on your feet – or do you prefer to stay up late and get up late? Find out here which types of sleep are distinguished, which one you are and what happens if you cannot keep to this natural rhythm.

What types of sleep are there?

Some people don’t really wake up until midday – and turn night into day. Others jump out of bed early in the morning, but close their eyelids after the sun has set.

Which so-called chronotype a person is, i.e. whether he is an “owl” or “lark” or somewhere in between, is in the genes. More precisely: in the genes that are responsible for the so-called circadian rhythm .

It describes our biological rhythm over 24 hours, so it is our “internal clock”. And how this internal clock ticks depends, among other things, on the hormone melatonin.

This causes the body temperature to drop and makes you sleepy. When you wake up, cortisol and adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) ensure that the body breaks down the melatonin and you become alert again.

Exactly why “larks” wake up early but are also tired early and “owls” stay fit for a long time but also stay in bed late in the morning is probably also related to strain-specific differences in the melatonin receptors.

Sleep behavior changes over the course of life

The internal clock ticks not only in the so-called suprachiasmatic nucleus, a bundle of neurons in the brain that sits above the crossing optic nerves. An inner clock is also located in every organ, even in every cell of the body, and sets the personal sleeping and waking rhythm. In seventy percent of people, the sleep-wake cycle is in the comfortable midfield; real larks or owls are only 15 percent each.

However, this so-called chronotype changes over the course of life: while small children are often alert early in the morning, much to the chagrin of their parents, teenagers often develop into pronounced late risers. The pendulum then gradually swings back during adult life – old people tend to be early risers.

Life against the inner clock

It always becomes problematic when people have to live against their inner clock – and there are many. You can’t completely get used to an externally determined rhythm – it’s in the genes like the color of the eyes or hair.

  • Night watchman & Co : Those who have to work at night almost always live against their own clock. One cannot fully get used to the changed rhythm. The reason for this is that our need for sleep also depends on daylight. Artificial light can’t even come close to compensating for that. When it gets dark, the body releases the sleep hormone melatonin.
  • Exhausting Shift Work : Shift workers are plagued by a form of chronic jet lag. A survey conducted by Allianz in 2009 revealed that many other working people would also like to sleep longer. One in three employees stated that they would like to stay in bed longer.
  • Tired Students : For nocturnal teenagers, school and work, both of which start early in the morning, collide with their body clock. Some experts are therefore calling for school lessons to be started later at least – because the concentration and learning ability of the tired young people tend to be close to zero in the early morning.
  • Time change : The annual changeover to daylight saving time further exacerbates the problem. It increases the proportion of people who have to get up earlier than is good for them.

Long and short sleepers

Not only the chronotype is individually different, the amount of sleep that a person needs is also very different. Most people sleep seven to eight hours a night. Anyone who sleeps less than six hours is considered a short sleeper; anyone who sleeps more than nine hours a night is a late riser. Napoleon Bonaparte even claimed to get by with four hours. Einstein is reported to have needed ten hours of night sleep.

The reason for the range of sleepiness: short sleepers, it is assumed, simply sleep more effectively. Their deep sleep phases are just as long as those of late risers. The sleep of late risers, on the other hand, seems to be lighter on average, and those affected dream a lot more.

The need for sleep decreases continuously over the course of life. Babies sleep for up to 20 hours, old people often only need five hours of sleep.

Dangerous lack of sleep

Anyone who lives against their inner clock and chronically sleeps too little risks their health. Studies show that people who sleep little are at increased risk of obesity and diabetes. A lack of sleep even weakens the immune system’s defenses – a study found that people who sleep little catch a cold more often . On the other hand, if you get enough sleep, you not only feel better, you also live healthier.

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