Sleep disorders can make you physically and mentally ill. These are the 10 most common causes of sleep problems. And the most successful strategies that are sure to help
Falling asleep sounds so easy: Lie down, close your eyes and you’re done. Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that! “Above all, sleeping is an extremely complicated work of the brain, while the rest of the body is resting,” says Professor Wolfgang Hartmann, former head physician in the Department of Psychiatry at Ingolstadt Clinic. “It is a miracle that it works in most cases.” If it doesn’t work for you sometimes or more often, we have put together the most common causes of insomnia and what works best:
The 10 most common causes of insomnia
- Waking up too early
Causes: Sensitive sleepers wake up when the heating starts or the first tram rattles past without them later remembering the sound. Most of the time, however, it is depression or problems that wake you up prematurely and keep you from going back to sleep because of all the brooding. “But it is also possible that your personal need for sleep is simply overestimated,” says sleep expert Jürgen Zulley, chronobiologist and former head of the Institute of Sleep Medicine at the University of Regensburg.
Remedy: If another attempt at sleep is not worthwhile, get up and look forward to it about a longer breakfast.
- Difficulty falling asleep
Causes: It is above all the various events of a day that set off the brooding in the pillows. Although you feel sufficiently tired, it doesn’t work out to fall asleep at first. But caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can also cause problems falling asleep.
Remedy:Try the exclusion principle: only drink coffee until 2 p.m. and leave out alcohol altogether. It is not recommended to do sports after 5 p.m. because the circulation is still set for performance even after hours. Fall asleep rituals are good: “Just like children who can only nod off with the help of a slumber song, a certain fall-asleep routine helps adults too,” says Professor Hartmann. For example, relaxing music, a book or a short warm bath are suitable.
- By sleep disorder
causes: “Everyone has his night depressive phase,” says Jürgen Zulley. Frequent problems sleeping through the night are mainly caused by depression or highly stressful emotional conflicts that have existed for a longer period of time.
Remedy: If you wake up at night, you shouldn’t hope for sleep with closed eyes. “After 20 minutes at the latest, it’s advisable to do something irrelevant until you get tired again,” says Zulley. Since unresolved problems create tension, soft music or a bath before bed can go a long way. If the problem of staying asleep becomes a perennial issue, consult a sleep specialist, neurologist or psychiatrist.
Causes: Frequent nightmares in adults point to a deep-seated and unresolved emotional conflict that the person concerned calls up again and again in order to resolve it. But acute stress and excessive demands are also possible causes.
Remedy:Relaxing sleeping pills usually do nothing for nightmares. However, there is a risk that the causal conflicts will remain hidden. The psyche then no longer finds an outlet in the nightmares and looks for it in another psychosomatic illness. “If nightmares become a problem, then one should not hesitate to seek psychotherapeutic help,” advises Professor Hartmann. Sometimes it also helps to defuse acute stressful or stressful situations.
Causes: Not known. Usually it is children who suddenly crawl out of bed towards the end of their deep sleep phases and wander around. In adulthood, sleepwalking is an indication of a deep-seated emotional conflict. Stress, on the other hand, is the cause of what is known as sleep behavior disorder. “Those affected suddenly start beating out of the dream, but don’t wander around,” explains Jürgen Zulley.
Remedy:Sleepwalking children don’t need therapy. However, adults who unconsciously take night walks should seek medical help. On the one hand, it is a matter of resolving the underlying emotional conflict. On the other hand, there is a risk of injury, because only in familiar surroundings is there such a thing as “sleepwalking security”.
- Sleep apnea
causes: The walls of the palate and throat come together in front of the windpipe and block the airways. Breathing stops until the brain reports a lack of oxygen. The person concerned wakes up for a few seconds, but initially does not notice any of this. In the morning he feels so bruised as if he hadn’t slept.
Remedy:There are no self-help measures for sleep apnea sufferers. “One should see a pulmonologist or ENT doctor to confirm the diagnosis with the help of portable measuring devices,” advises sleep researcher Zulley. The therapy initially consists in avoiding heavy meals and alcohol in the evening, and also losing weight. Mostly, however, it boils down to wearing a positive pressure breathing mask at night. Its purpose is to prevent the walls of the throat from blocking the airways.
Causes of jet lag : After an overseas flight with a time difference, only the body is already in the new time zone. The internal clock that controls the sleep-wake cycle, on the other hand, is still on its home course.
Remedy: In order to optimally prepare for jet lag, you should start to approach the day-night rhythm of the time zone that awaits you before you travel: For example, if you fly to the USA, you postpone your habits a few days earlier the departure to the rear. At the travel destination, you should then fully expose yourself to the new day-night rhythm and thus to social life. If you only stay in a different time zone for a day or two, you should do exactly the opposite and do everything you can to ensure that your rhythm does not change in the first place.
- Excessive Sleep
Causes: There are many possible causes for an excessive need for sleep. The most common is illness, since sleep is one of the most vulnerable functions of the organism and is controlled by numerous substances and unexplained mechanisms.
Remedy:First of all, clarify whether it is actually an excessive need for sleep or whether you are one of those people who just need a lot of sleep. If the latter is not the case, a sleep doctor needs to find out what is causing the abnormal fatigue. In the worst case, it is important to consider how the day can be made more active. “If there is no reason for the excessive need for sleep, light therapy is worth a try,” advises expert Zulley. “Light activates the organism and brightens the mood.”
- Shift work
Causes: The constant rhythmic change from day to night life upsets the internal clock. The constant alternation between light and darkness also plays a role.
Remedy:Some people tolerate shift work better than others. “The so-called evening type and young people cope better with it than morning types and older people,” says Jürgen Zulley. But even younger people should only work in a shift system for a few years, otherwise the susceptibility to illnesses increases. If there is no professional alternative, you sleep preferably in two blocks in the morning and in the afternoon.If you have alternating shifts, for example four days in the morning shift and then the night shift, you can treat the sleep disorders with medication with the help of a doctor.
- Restless Legs
Causes: Before going to sleep and at night there is repeated tingling, pulling or tension in the legs. People wake up and have to move their legs or even get up to calm their troubled legs. The causes are unclear; Stress and emotional conflicts as well as genetic predispositions probably play a role.
Remedy: About five percent of people in Germany suffer from restless legs. However, it is often not recognized because the doctor usually meets the patient at a symptom-free interval. If you are affected, it is best to see a neurologist. So-called dopamine agonists (dopamines are messenger substances in the nerve tracts) can sometimes alleviate the symptoms.
Does insomnia cause health problems?
“Sleep is part of the human biological rhythm,” says Zulley. The more regularly you go to bed in the evening, the better you sleep. “The influence of the night’s rest on the physical and mental balance is often completely underestimated.”
Those who do not get enough sleep for a long time must fear serious consequences for their health. Experiments with rats showed that the animals die if they do not sleep for a long time. First there are feeding attacks, but the rats keep losing weight. Shortly after their immune system breaks down, death eventually occurs. It is hardly different with humans. The night’s sleep makes it possible to be unavailable for a few hours and to switch off the sensory organs. For this reason, red eyes are one of the first signs of tiredness.
Due to the weakened immune system, the risk of illness increases significantly with persistent lack of sleep. Diabetes, depression, high blood pressure and gastrointestinal disorders are more common among sleep-disturbed people than in the general population. “According to a new American study, people age faster with sleep deprivation,” adds Jürgen Zulley. Humans can go up to eleven days without sleep – at least that’s the world record set by the American Randy Gardener in 1964. “Usually, however, you fall asleep after three nights of being awake at the latest,” says Zulley. Scientists suspect that extreme sleep deprivation can also lead to death in humans.
What are the consequences of bad sleep the day after?
Those who are tired do less. For example, the participants in a study at the University of San Diego (USA) solved simple memory tasks 50 percent worse than when they were rested after a sleepless night. Monotonous activities such as driving are also more difficult. “Statistically speaking, this means that more accidents happen around lunchtime,” says Wolfgang Hartmann. If it becomes more interesting and varied, a lack of sleep is hardly of any consequence. “Especially tasks that require speed are often easier to handle,” says Jürgen Zulley.
What happens if I lie awake sleepless?
If you get less than 5 hours of sleep, these important processes in your body cannot run optimally: As a kind of compensation for the performance during the day, many body functions, under the direction of the brain, settle down to lower resting values after falling asleep. The temperature drops by up to half a degree, blood pressure and pulse run gently, and metabolism is reduced by 25 percent. Only the concentrations of the growth hormone HGW (Human Growth Hormone) and the immune substance interleukin increase. Both are necessary so that cells and the immune system can regenerate during the night.
Without the deep sleep phases, which are mainly within the first five hours after falling asleep, people would not be productive at all the next day. Why, however, according to a study by the University of Regensburg, the average German, statistically speaking, sleeps from 11:04 p.m. to 6:18 a.m. and thus slightly more than seven hours a night, is still unclear. “This may give the body a reserve in order to get a minimum of deep sleep in any case,” supposes Jürgen Zulley.
Dream phases interrupt deep sleep at intervals of around 90 minutes. Because of the violently rolling eyeballs in these sections, they are also called REM sleep phases (for Rapid Eye Movement). It is possible that – analogous to the blinking control lights of a computer – these are signals from the brain, which then stores what has been experienced during the day in the long-term memory and deletes superfluous information. “These processes can be compared with copying data from the main memory to the main memory of a computer’s hard drive,” explains Professor Hartmann. “The body uses just as much energy in this process as in the waking state.”
Despite all previous knowledge about the necessity of sleep – its origin is unknown. “There is no such thing as a sleep gene that you will be able to influence at some point,” says psychiatrist Wolfgang Hartmann. Scientists have also been unsuccessfully researching a sleep center in the brain so far our brain is controlled at the same time, “says Professor Hartmann. However, genes have been discovered that set the pace for the internal clock.
How much sleep do i need
“The absolute lower limit is five hours per night,” says sleep expert Jürgen Zulley. When our body sleeps and when it wants to be awake is hereditary and cannot be influenced, or only to a limited extent. For this reason, trying to train yourself to sleep less only works within certain limits – if at all. How sensitively our internal clock is ticking is shown, for example, by the fact that more traffic accidents occur on the first Monday after summer time than on a normal Monday. Whether a night is really relaxing, however, depends less on the duration than on the quality of the deep sleep. Ultimately, everyone has to find out their own individual sleep level for themselves. “The optimum is usually between seven and eight hours”,But if you deviate from it, you don’t need to worry. The need for sleep changes several times in the course of life. If an infant needs 16 to 18 hours a day, the quantum levels off at around eight hours at the age of 20 and then continues to decrease with increasing age. Women take a little longer than men, and both sleep longer in winter than in summer. Those who are sick also need more sleep, and of course those who have got used to sleeping for a long time also need. In addition, everything that promises relaxation is permitted – there is no ideal sleep type. “It is important to experience sleep as a balance and to feel relaxed in the morning,” says Wolfgang Hartmann. “Length of sleep, room furnishings and temperature are purely a matter of taste.” This also applies to bedtime. So it can make sense to fall asleep a few hours early because of a party. “You simply anticipate the deep sleep and accordingly need less total sleep later,” explains Jürgen Zulley.
What helps if you can’t fall asleep?
Of course, something can be done about sleep disorders, the range of sleep aids ranges from home remedies such as the famous glass of warm milk with honey to more exercise.
For a 1997 study by Stanford University in the USA, 43 women and men had trained endurance and strength for twelve weeks. All participants then reported falling asleep faster and waking up less often at night.
But the solution to sleep disorders is not always obvious. “Sleep problems are often symptoms of our hectic times”, says Professor Hartmann. Anyone who understands that a stressful situation at work or in a partnership keeps him awake at night, for example, is one step closer to a restful night’s sleep. Then there are the questions of personal sleep hygiene: Is my bedroom quiet and dark enough for me, is the room temperature comfortable, am I relaxed before going to bed or did I eat too much or drink coffee too late? “If you have trouble falling asleep, you should get up after 20 minutes at the latest and only go back to bed when you are tired,” advises expert Zulley. An appointment with a neurologist or psychiatrist, on the other hand, is only pending
When should you treat sleep disorders with sleeping pills?
Sleep medication should only be the last of all options: only when neither tricks nor targeted sleep hygiene bring the longed-for slumber are they used and only in consultation with the family doctor. Depending on the cause of the sleep disorder, you should weigh up with the doctor whether the sleep disorder or ultimately the drug poses a greater health risk. With sleeping pills there is a risk of addiction, the health consequences of which should not be underestimated. In any case, it would be better to research the causes of the sleep disorders in a sleep laboratory. “Everyone can contact a sleep laboratory directly,” says Jürgen Zulley. “A referral from a doctor is not required for this.”
Herbal remedies are worth a try. For example, extracts from valerian, hops, lemon balm and passion flower often help with mild insomnia. The substance tryptophan – contained in large quantities in milk, for example – can have a soothing effect.
What some sleep disturbed people dream of, however, will not come true in the near future: a drug that on the one hand brings immediate sleep and on the other hand is completely free of side effects. “Sleep is too involved in our everyday conditions,” says Zulley. “Different body systems have to interact, and that can’t be organized with one pill.”