Those who let themselves be ruled by everyday life don’t sleep well. Noise, jet lag and shift work also affect the night’s sleep.
Our life follows an internal clock based on the change between day and night, which controls waking and sleeping. Bodily functions and psychological well-being adapt to this finely tuned circadian rhythm, for example in the ups and downs of body temperature or hormones. Sleep itself also has its own sensible structure, the so-called “sleep architecture”.
Lifestyle habits that affect sleep
We are aware of many self-made sleep disruptors, but we often ignore them in the hope of outsmarting our inner clock. Here in this post, everyone has to find out for themselves what they are sensitive to.
Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, hearty food
If you often find it difficult to fall asleep and lie awake for more than half an hour, you should check what you have consumed during the day: coffee, black tea or cola in the afternoon or evening, a heavy dinner, plus salty snacks in front of the television. Caffeine is also found in many drinks and chocolate, as well as in medicines. It takes a few hours to break down in the body.
Sleep experts have found that even people who can drink coffee at any time of the day without any problems can sometimes suffer from chronic insomnia. You sleep restlessly and wake up more often or too early in the morning because the caffeine in your body is still having an effect.
After drinking wine, beer, or other alcoholic beverages, many fall asleep quickly, but wake up in the morning sweating and feeling thirsty. The dampening effect of alcohol wears off over the course of the night, and then the withdrawal symptoms set in, which manifest themselves as sweating, headaches, and dry mouth.
Fatty foods keep digestion going, and spicy foods also lead to heartburn. If you eat too much before going to bed, not only can you have trouble falling asleep, but you often have trouble staying asleep. Sometimes, you don’t eat enough in the evening and the empty stomach does not allow you to fall asleep.
A glass of milk can help you sleep better because milk contains tryptophan, a substance that naturally improves sleep. A doctor should clarify the cause of inexplicable nocturnal hunger pangs. This could be a metabolic disorder such as diabetes or a psychological problem.
Lack of exercise
Sufficient physical activity during the day prevents many health problems and thus sleep disorders. Because if the body is poorly supplied with blood, the muscles are untrained and tense and the joints are stiff, it has a negative effect on the natural sleep rhythm.
One exception: if you exercise excessively before going to bed, you often have trouble falling asleep because your body is still running at full speed. An evening walk is less strenuous and helps most people get a good night’s sleep. The best time for physical training is in the morning or afternoon.
Stress, anger, mental strain
The best mattress is of little use if your mind does not come to rest, which prevents you from falling asleep and wakes you up again early in the morning. A sensible daily schedule, stress management, and regular relaxation are essential. Anyone who cannot find their way out of their problem on their own should seek professional help.
Wrong attitudes towards sleep
Outdated sleeping myths
You can pressure yourself with fixed ideas about sleep and thus develop sleep problems. Anyone who thinks they have to get nine hours of sleep, but wake up after seven hours, may believe that they are not getting enough sleep. Worries and thoughts that revolve around the topic 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 then lie awake late and become more and more nervous.
Likewise, the fear of another bad night leads to growing inner restlessness. Older people often have this problem, especially if they take a long nap in the afternoon and therefore sleep less at night.
On the other hand, many people no longer perceive their body’s signals or do not take them seriously enough. You suppress signs of tiredness and the need for sleep with a lot of coffee during the day and do not go to bed on time at night. Some work until bedtime or doze off in front of the TV until late. Although they are overtired, they feel overexcited and then cannot fall asleep or wake up too early.
Sleep killer postural (functional) pain
Backache, neck pain, or headaches, for example, make it difficult for many people to fall asleep at night or keep waking up in between. You can often alleviate or completely avoid such complaints with good, ergonomic mattresses and pillows.
The right room temperature also plays an important role. However, the preferences are different: Some need a lot fresh and cool air as possible, and others sleep more relaxed when it is a little warmer. Air that is too dry or too humid on the other hand could prevent from a good night’s sleep. Stale, smoky air can also make breathing and thus sleeping more difficult because not enough oxygen is being taken in.
Light plays a key role in the sleep-wake cycle. A well-darkened room makes it easier to fall asleep and sleep through the night. Points of light, such as the illuminated display of an automatic alarm clock on the bedside table or devices in stand-by mode, also subliminally keep us awake. However, some people prefer a bit of brightness.
Nocturnal noises are among the most common sleep disruptors. Although some people claim that street noise doesn’t bother them, studies have shown that noise, for example from airplanes or cars, subtly impairs the quality of sleep at night. The amount of deep sleep can be shortened, while the levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline remain elevated. This in turn can lead to permanently elevated blood pressure. The snoring partner not only disturbs the other person next to him but also usually has sleep problems himself. Soundproof windows and earplugs may help.
Traveling to other time zones and jet lag
Our internal clock follows our times of day and night in a complex way. When flying to a different time zone, for example, it cannot change immediately. It takes time for the body to adjust accordingly. After a flight from Europe to America, most people suffer more or less from what is known as jet lag.
Many travelers have even more problems on eastbound flights. For example, you fly from New York around four in the afternoon. When you arrive in Frankfurt at six in the morning, your internal clock is still set to New York bedtime, because it is only midnight in New York. The more time zones you fly over, the more pronounced the jet lag is.
Symptoms: Jet lag sufferers feel tired and exhausted at their destination during the day, and they are psyched at night, have trouble falling asleep, wake up more often, and are often awake too early. Concentration problems and an irritable mood can also occur.
What helps: After about two to eight days, the sleep-wake cycle will gradually follow the new time zone. Some air travelers have also had good experiences if they get up a little earlier or go to bed later before the flight – depending on the respective time difference. Take sleeping pills with care and consult your doctor, so as not to create dependency and increased sleep problems. This also applies to the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Manufactured synthetically, it is only available as a prescription drug in Europe for people over the age of 55. In addition, the long-term effects have not yet been adequately documented.
More than twelve percent of employed Germans have flexible working hours, which include early, late, or night shifts. Night workers and shift workers often suffer from sleep problems because they have to be against their internal clock time and time again. For example, they work between two and five in the morning, when the need for sleep is greatest and all bodily functions are geared towards it. This also increases the risk of accidents at work.
Younger workers often cope better than older workers with alternating night and day shifts. Even night people sometimes find it easier to work at night than morning types. For those who only work at night, the organism often adapts to the changing rhythm. Weekly changing shifts are less favorable, as the body hardly has the opportunity to adapt.
Symptoms and consequences: Those affected often suffer from a constant lack of sleep because they actually sleep less. Sleep during the day is more superficial and the deep sleep phases are usually not as pronounced. Many have health problems such as gastrointestinal, headaches, loss of appetite, nervousness and mood swings. In addition, social life is affected by the contrasting sleep-wake cycle. There is an increased tendency to develop cardiovascular diseases, such as coronary artery disease, which is mainly due to unhealthy lifestyles associated with shift work, such as smoking and obesity.
Diagnosis and therapy: With the help of detailed consultation and physical examinations, the doctor can get an idea of the sleep problems and identify possible health consequences. Anyone who has to work night shifts and suffers from insomnia should consult their doctor and discuss with their employer what options there are for organizing the shifts. In individual cases, such as moderate or severe sleep disorders, a person affected may not be suitable for shift work for health reasons.
Taking sleeping pills only brings short-term relief, making you dependent and losing their effectiveness over a longer period of time. It makes more sense to adjust your sleeping environment, to ensure that there is sufficient darkness and quiet (using shutters, dark curtains, blindfolds, and earplugs). Overall, a healthy lifestyle helps to keep the stress caused by the opposing working hours lower.
Light therapy, in which strong artificial light simulates daylight, can sometimes help the body to adapt more easily and night workers to remain more productive at night. That has not yet been proven.
Treatment with synthetically manufactured melatonin, a hormone that is naturally secreted in the body at night, did not show any clear improvement. In addition, possible side effects have not yet been fully clarified.
It’s better to relax an hour or two before you go to sleep and then actually go to bed when you’re tired. If you lie awake in bed for a long time, it is better to get up again, drink a glass of milk, do a relaxation exercise or read a book. Remember, always associate the bed with sleeping.
Hereditary sleep-wake cycle
There are night people known as “owls”, who are awake until late at night and can then sleep until noon. Early risers are known as “larks”, on the other hand, often get tired in the late afternoon but feel wide awake as early as five o’clock in the morning.
Those affected are sometimes forced to live against their personal sleep-wake rhythm for a large part of their lives, Familial predisposition seems to play a role in people with such shifted sleep-wake cycle, and sometimes age as well. Owls are more common among young people, and from midlife, some then turn into larks.
Symptoms: difficulty falling asleep, waking up early in the morning, shortened sleep times, daytime tiredness, concentration, and performance problems.
Diagnosis and therapy: First, the doctor will figure out the physical and mental causes for the shifted sleep cycle. It helps some of those affected to consistently bring their sleeping and waking times closer to what is normal in society. In persistent cases, the doctor may consider light therapy. Late or early sleepers are exposed to the light of a special lamp at times when they get tired too early or wake up too late. Treatment can also be performed at home after an introduction at a sleep center or doctor’s office.