Always on the go – who lets himself be controlled by everyday life, sleeps worse. Noise, jet lag, shift work also put a strain on the night’s sleep, as well as sleep-wake phases that are inherently postponed due to it.
Our life follows an internal clock, which is based on the change of day and night, controls waking and sleeping. Body functions and mental well-being adapt to or condition this finely tuned circadian rhythm, for example in the ups and downs of body temperature or hormones. Even sleep itself has its own meaningful structure, the sleep architecture.
Habits that affect sleep
We know many of the self-made sleeping baffles, but too often overlook them in the hope of outsmarting our inner clock. Here, everyone must find it out for himself what he is sensitive to, one can stand the espresso after dinner, while the other is awake half the night.
– Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, hearty food
If you often fall asleep badly, stay awake for more than half an hour, check what you ate and drank during the day: coffee, black tea or coke in the afternoon or evening, too long an evening meal, and salted snacks in front of the TV. Caffeine is also found in many drinks and in chocolate, as well as in medicines. It takes several hours for it to break down in the body.
Sleep doctors have found that even people who drink coffee at any time of the day can sometimes suffer from chronic insomnia. They sleep restlessly and wake up more often or too early in the morning because the caffeine is still working.
After drinking wine, beer or other alcoholic drinks, many fall asleep faster, but wake up in the morning, often sweaty and feel thirsty. The dampening effect of alcohol subsides during the night, then start the withdrawal symptoms, which manifest themselves in increased restlessness and other symptoms such as sweating, headache, dry mouth. The nocturnal withdrawal effect also occurs in smokers and after excessive coffee consumption during the day.
Fat foods keep the digestive system busy, spicy foods also promote heartburn. Those who eat too much before going to bed can not only fall asleep badly, but often also have problems sleeping through. But it may also be that you have eaten too little in the evening and the empty stomach will not let you fall asleep.
A glass of milk can help you sleep better because milk contains tryptophan, a substance that naturally promotes sleep. The cause of inexplicable nightly hunger attacks should be clarified by a doctor. Behind it can hide a metabolic disorder such as diabetes or a psychological problem.
– lack of exercise
Anyone who moves too little, takes his natural need for movement as subliminal unrest quasi with to bed. Enough physical activity during the day prevents many health problems and thus sleep disorders. Because when the body is less well supplied with blood, the muscles are untrained and tense and the joints are stiff, this also has a detrimental effect on the natural sleep rhythm.
One exception: If you spend a short time before going to bed, doing a lot of sports, you often have trouble falling asleep, because then the body is still running at full speed. An evening walk is less stressful and helps most to have a restful night. Endurance and strength training you better lay in the morning or afternoon.
– Stress, anger, mental stress
The best mattress is often of little use if your thoughts do not calm down, prevent you from falling asleep and start waking up early in the morning. A sensible daily plan, targeted stress management and regular relaxation are essential. Those who do not find their problem on their own should seek professional help.
Wrong attitudes towards sleep
– Outdated sleep myths
You can also put pressure on deadlocked ideas about sleep and thus develop sleep problems. Anyone who thinks that he must sleep for nine hours, but after seven hours is already awake, may under certain circumstances, get too little sleep. Worries and thoughts that revolve around the subject of sleep then really keep some people from a restful night’s sleep. They often go to bed too early, just to get enough sleep, but lie awake for a long time and get more and more nervous.
Likewise, the fear of another bad night leads to a growing inner restlessness. Often, older people have this problem, especially if they take a long nap and therefore sleep shorter at night.
– Bad habits
On the other hand, many people no longer perceive the signals of their bodies or are not serious enough. They suppress signs of tiredness and need for sleep with a lot of coffee during the day and do not go to bed in the evening. Some work until just before bedtime or doze until late in front of the TV. Even though they are tired, they feel over-excited and can’t fall asleep or wake up much too soon.
– Sleep killer postural (functional) pain
Back, neck or headache, for example, many people do not fall asleep at night or wake up again and again in between. You can often mitigate or completely avoid such complaints through good, anatomical mattresses and pillows.
– What does the room thermometer say?
The right temperature also plays an important role. Here, however, the preferences are different: Some need a lot of fresh and cool as possible air, others sleep more relaxed when it is a little warmer. Too dry and too humid air increase the susceptibility to infection. Even stale, smoky air can make breathing and thus sleep difficult because not enough oxygen is absorbed.
– bed in the study?
Anyone who (possibly inevitably) has set himself up in this way is often busy with professional issues even at night. The computer does not have to look for anything next to the pillow. Sometimes a new decor, Grandma’s chest of drawers or the modern mirrored doors on the wardrobe are disturbing.
People who travel frequently and thus must sleep in a different bed time and again, subtly miss the familiar surroundings. They often complain of falling asleep or morning awakening.
– Light plays a key role in the sleep-wake cycle. A well-darkened room makes it easy for many to fall asleep and sleep through. However, some people prefer a bit more brightness, especially towards tomorrow. Even points of light, such as the illuminated display of an automatic alarm clock on the bedside table or devices in stand-by mode, keep subliminally awake. This includes the TV opposite the foot – an often-disturbing feature in hotels.
– Noise: Nocturnal noises are one of the most common sleep robbers. Although some people claim that street noise does not bother them, studies have shown that noise, for example from planes or cars, subliminally lowers sleep quality at night. The deep sleep rate can be shortened, the levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline remain elevated. This in turn can lead to a permanently elevated blood pressure. The snoring partner not only disturbs his bed neighbor, but also has sleep problems himself. Soundproof windows and earplugs help many to sleep more peacefully.
Travel to other time zones and jet lag as causes for restless sleep
The inner clock follows in many ways our day and night times. For example, when flying to another time zone, you can’t switch immediately. It takes some time for brain signals and body functions to adjust accordingly. After a flight from Europe to America, most suffer more or less pronounced under a so-called Jet Lag.
Many travelers have even more problems with flights to the east. For example, they leave New York around four in the afternoon. On arrival at six o’clock in the morning in Frankfurt, the inner clock is still set for New York’s bedtime, because in New York it is only midnight. The more time zones are flown over, the more pronounced are the complaints.
Symptoms: Jet lag sufferers feel tired and chipped at their destination during the day, they are turned on at night, have problems falling asleep, wake up more often and are often too early to wake up. This can lead to concentration problems and an irritable mood.
What helps: After two to eight days, for example, the sleep-wake cycle completely follows the new timers. It usually helps to follow the other time schedule immediately. Some air travelers have also had good experiences, if they get up a little earlier before the flight or lie down later – according to the respective time difference. Take sleep aid only with caution and in consultation with your doctor, to produce no addiction and increased sleep problems. This also applies to the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. Synthetically produced, it is available as a prescription drug in Europe only for people over 55 years. The long-term effects are also not sufficiently documented.
Shift work and sleep problems
Over twelve percent of working folks have varying working hours, including early, late, or night shifts. Night and shift-workers are particularly prone to sleeping problems as they must be active against their internal clock again and again. For example, they work between two and five o’clock in the morning when they have the strongest need for sleep and all body functions are focused on it. This also increases the risk of accidents at work.
Younger workers often cope better with switching between night and day shifts than older ones. Over the years, sleep becomes easier and more prone to failure anyway. Even night people fall nightly work assignments sometimes easier than morning types. In people who work only at night, the organism often adapts to the changed rhythm. Less favorable are weekly changing shifts, since the body then hardly gets an opportunity to change. On the other hand, night services of only one to three days are usually better tolerated, because the load is only short, and the missed sleep can be made up for again.
Symptoms and consequences: Those affected often suffer from persistent sleep deprivation, as they sleep shorter. Sleep-in and sleep-through disorders characterize the night sleep. The sleep during the day is more superficial, the deep sleep phases are usually not so pronounced. Many have health problems such as gastrointestinal complaints, headaches, loss of appetite, nervousness and mood swings. In addition, social life is affected by the contrasting sleep-wake cycle. An increased tendency to cardiovascular diseases, such as coronary heart disease, seems to be due mainly to a healthier lifestyle in connection with shift work, such as smoking and obesity.
Diagnosis and therapy: With the help of detailed discussions and physical examinations the doctor can get an idea of the sleep problems and show possible health consequences. If you must do night or shift work and suffer from sleep disorders, you should consult with your doctor and discuss with your employer what options there are to organize the shifts differently. However, this often depends very much on the operation and its requirements. You may also need a company or occupational physician as a contact person. In individual cases, for example in the case of moderate or severe sleep disorders, a person affected may not be suitable for shift-work or certain shifts for health reasons.
The use of sleeping pills only provides short-term help. In particular, agents such as benzodiazepines can impair performance, make them dependent and lose their effectiveness. It makes more sense to consistently use the available sleep times, to provide enough darkness and rest (shutters, dark curtains, blindfolds, ear plugs).
Some sufferers are preparing for an upcoming night shift by going to bed or getting up an hour or two earlier a few days earlier. However, the social environment often does not allow life to be so consistently aligned with shift working hours. Overall, a healthy lifestyle helps to reduce the burden of counteracting working hours.
A light therapy (see also below), where strong artificial light simulates daylight, may help to make the body more adaptable with its phases, and night workers stay more efficient at night. That’s not proven yet.
Treatment trials with synthetically produced melatonin, a hormone naturally released at night in the body, did not provide a clear improvement. In addition, possible side effects are not fully understood.
It is better if you relax for one to two hours before falling asleep and then really go to bed when you are tired. If you are awake in bed, you better get up again, drink a glass of milk, do a relaxation exercise or read a few lines. In your own view, always immediately connect the bed to sleep.
Sleep doctors say it unmistakably when they claim that only sleep and sex should be allowed in bed. Frequently changing sleeping and getting-up times also have an unfavorable effect on the restful sleep rhythm. You can find out more about favorable sleep behavior in the chapter.
Investment-related shifts in the sleep-wake cycle
There are pronounced night people, “owls”, who are still awake until late into the night and then can sleep until noon. On the other hand, early risers, “larks”, often get tired in the late afternoon, but feel fully awake and fit at five in the morning. Physicians speak of delayed or pre-relocated sleep phases.
Those affected are sometimes forced to live their sleep-wake cycle for a large part of their lives, as everyday life takes place in a predetermined time corset based on the average rhythm. Familial predisposition seems to play a role in people with such postponed sleep-wake phases, sometimes age.
In young people, the owls are found more often, from the middle of life, some then turn to larks. Even an increased need for sleep during the day may have its origin in a disturbance of the circadian rhythms.
Symptoms: These are primarily sleep difficulties, early morning awakenings, shorter sleep times, daytime fatigue, concentration and performance problems.
Diagnosis and Therapy: First, the doctor will clarify the physical and mental causes of the postponed sleep phases. For some sufferers, it helps to consistently approach their sleep and recovery to the usual social cycles, even during the free time. In stubborn cases, the doctor may consider a light therapy. The late risers or early sleepers are exposed to the light of a special lamp in times when they get tired too early or wake up too late.
The strong brightness influences the waking phases positively and thus contributes to the fact that the sleep-wake rhythm partially normalizes. The treatment can also be performed at home after being introduced to a sleep center or doctor’s office.
Enlightenment on the hours of darkness – Dr Stanley explains the truth and fallacies behind the mystic process of sleep in a very readable way. His knowledge is truly vast and his humor is brilliant and he uses it well to differentiate between the scientifically proven, the plausible and the downright banal claims that sometimes appear in the press. I recommend this book to anyone who has a problem with their sleep from time to time…which is everybody!