Why Do People Sleep Badly?

After the after-work party, you quickly check emails and check what your friends posted on Facebook. Then comes the next WhatsApp message: “Are we going to the cinema tomorrow?” The horror news of the day flicker over the TV screen. You need a glass of red wine to relax. Finally, the look at the watch makes you shrug: crap, already half past one! The thought carousel begins to turn: “What if I can’t fall asleep quickly now? I have this important meeting with the boss tomorrow …”

Millions of people are well aware of such or similar scenarios. We would love to sleep, but when? And when we finally take the time to do so, it just doesn’t work out.

“Adolescents and adults of working age are sleeping significantly less today than they used to,” confirms Professor Jörg Lindemann, a ENT doctor and sleep physician at the University Hospital Ulm. “They go to bed too late, but they still have to get up early in the morning and manage to get into a chronic sleep deficit.”

Sleep Disorders Are On The Rise

According to a recent GfK survey commissioned by the pharmacies, more than 32 percent of citizens suffer from sleep disorders at least occasionally. In 2015, the rate was 26 percent, and in 2013 it was only 23 percent. According to the latest DAK health report, they have increased by 66 percent among professionals aged 35 to 65 since 2010. Are we dealing with a rapidly spreading epidemic?

Experts see this development as a tribute to the modern lifestyle. Permanent accessibility and overstimulation due to electronic media, stress at work, and increase in leisure time reduce sleep quality and duration. In addition, there are the consequences of shiftwork and globalization, with nightly telephone conferences and business trips across several time zones.

Multimedia in the Bedroom Disturbs the Rhythm

“We have lost the natural day-night rhythm, which is oriented towards light and dark,” says Lindemann. “People used to go to bed when it was dark and didn’t use the bedroom as a multimedia room.”

The problem that experts point out, is often homemade. For example, the presence of TVs, computers, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones in the bedroom. “Electronic media increase the activity level and signal to the brain through the illuminated display that it is still bright outside. Both keep us from sleeping,” says Lindemann.

To make matters worse, sleep does not have a particularly good image in our meritocracy. “When we sleep little, we feel like heroes,” explains Professor Winfried Randerath, a sleep physician at Bethany Hospital in Solingen.

Lack of Sleep Increases the Risk of Accidents

The effects on performance and health as well as the risk of accidents are enormous without enough sleep. According to a study by the Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine (DGSM), fatigue at the wheel is a more common cause of fatal accidents than alcohol. In the survey of pharmacies, 14.5 percent of motorists said they had already nodded at the wheel. Studies also suggest that a worse night’s sleep increases the risk of depression, stroke and dementia and shortens life expectancy.

“That’s why sleep as prevention deserves as much attention in the future as healthy eating, physical training, and smoking cessation,” says DGSM board member Randerath. But unlike being overweight and addicted to nicotine, lack of sleep is still considered ‘chic’.

“There is an urgent need for perceptions to change here.” This also applies to the social framework conditions. “Many people have to live against their inner clock. ” Randerath is convinced. The survey of the pharmacies confirms that 34.4 percent of the participants describe themselves as night owls, which only get really cheerful in the evening and like to sleep longer in the morning.

Just No Drama, Please!

For people with sleep problems, however, knowing the health risks is rather counterproductive. “The more we worry about sleep disorders, the worse we sleep,” says Lindemann. “It’s best not to think about it at all because the body regulates it by itself, like breathing.” Psychologist Professor Dieter Riemann confirms that “Sleep is important, but there is no point in fixing yourself to it.”

Experts speak of a disorder in need of treatment if the patient sleeps poorly at least three times a week for more than a month. “Anyone who is constantly tired during the day and is afraid not to fall asleep should seek professional advice,” Randerath said.

First to the Family Doctor

The first point of contact is usually the family doctor. He first examines whether a disease is behind the problems – such as high blood pressure, thyroid hyperfunction, depression, or nocturnal respiratory failure. If the underlying disease is treated, the night’s rest also improves. “However, if unfavorable habits are the cause, the patient should consider how to change his behavior,” says Lindemann.

For example, giving up heavy meals and alcohol in the evening. This is because it makes you tired, but it affects the quality of sleep. You should leave your fingers off caffeinated drinks from noon onwards. A regular rhythm is also important: “People with sleep problems should always get up at the same time and give up the nap at noon.” Evening rituals include relaxation exercises as well as baths and teas with soothing medicinal herbs.

Sleep Aids Not Longer Than One Month

In the bedroom, it should be dark, quiet and not too warm. “Don’t go to bed until you’re tired, and don’t constantly look at the clock at night,” advises Lindemann. He doesn’t think anything of expensive high-tech mattresses and special pillows: “When you sleep, you can be old-fashioned.”

If simple behavioral changes do not improve, a visit to a sleep physician can be useful. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the main help for chronic sleep and sleep disorders. “While it is easier for patients to take a sleep aid,” Randerath says. But doctors are now much more cautious. Because of the risk of getting used to these preparations, one should not be prescribed for more than one month. Often over-the-counter herbal remedies with valerian, hops, lavender, or passionflower help, which are suitable for longer-term intake.

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