Sleep Disorders

Sleep Disorders – Causes: Life situation, shift work

Sleep Disorders – Causes: Life situation, shift work

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 postponed due to the plant

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 , such as the ups and downs of body temperature or hormones. Even sleep itself has its own meaningful structure, the sleep architecture (see chapter “Why sleep is so important” ).

Habits that affect sleep

We actually know many of the self-made sleeping baffles, but often overreact to them, hoping to outsmart our internal clock. Here, everyone has to find out for himself what he is sensitive to, one can tolerate the espresso after dinner, while the other is awake half the night.

Sleep better
Sleep better

– Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, eat hearty

If you often fall asleep badly, stay awake for more than half an hour, check what you ate 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 present 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 actually 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 beverages, many fall asleep faster, but wake up in the morning, often sweat 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. 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 actually 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.

Sleep problems
– lack of exercise

Anyone who moves too little, takes his natural need for movement as subliminal unrest quasi with to bed. Sufficient physical activity during the day prevents many health problems and thus sleep disorders. Because when the body is poorly 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 weight training better move you to 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 wake you 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 (see chapter “Depression and other psychological triggers”) .

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Wrong attitudes toward sleep

– Outdated sleep myths

One can also put pressure on deadlocked ideas about sleep and thus develop sleep problems. Anyone who thinks that he has to 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 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 (see also primary insomnia in the chapter “depression, fears”). Older people often 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 the TV. Although they are tired, they feel over-excited and can not fall asleep or wake up much too soon.

Many people suffer from stress. Read how stress develops, how to make positive use of stress and how to prevent burnout

The bedroom

– Sleep killer postural (functional) pain

Back, neck or headaches, for example, do not make many people fall asleep at night or wake up again and again. You can often mitigate or completely avoid such complaints with 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, if 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?

Those who have (possibly inevitably) set themselves up in this way are often busy with their work-related questions at night. The computer does not have anything to look for next to the pillow. Sometimes a new decor, Grandma’s chest of drawers or the modern mirror doors on the wardrobe are disturbing.

People who travel frequently and thus have to 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 also includes the TV opposite the foot – an often disturbing features in hotels.

– Noise : Nocturnal noises are one of the most common sleep robbers. Although some people claim that street noise does not disturb 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 (see chapter “Snoring, sleep apnea” ). Soundproof windows and earplugs help many to sleep more peacefully.

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Morning wake up
Morning wake up

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. When traveling to another time zone, for example, she can not change immediately. It takes some time for brain signals and body functions to adapt accordingly. After a flight from Europe to America, most suffer more or less pronounced under a so-called jet lag (Engl. Jet = jet).

Many travelers have even more problems with flights to the east. For example, they leave New York around four in the afternoon. When arriving 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, in order not to create addiction and increased sleep problems (see chapter “Medication, Sleep Aid”).). 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. In addition, the long-term effects are not sufficiently documented.

Shift work and sleep problems

Over twelve percent of German working people have changing working hours, including early, late or night shifts. Night and shiftworkers are particularly prone to sleep problems, as they have to be active against their internal clock again and again. For example, they work between two and five o’clock in the morning when they are most in need of 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 shifts, since the body then hardly gets the opportunity to change. On the other hand night services of only one to three days are generally 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 actually 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 mainly due to a unhealthier lifestyle in connection with the shift work, such as smoking and obesity to be due.

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 have to 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 shiftwork or certain shifts for health reasons.

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The use of sleeping pills only helps in the short term. In particular, agents such as benzodiazepines can impair performance, make them dependent and lose their effectiveness (see chapter “Medication, Sleep Aid”). It makes more sense to consistently use the available sleep times, to provide sufficient 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 make night workers 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 produce 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 express it unequivocally when they demand 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 “Therapy and self-help” .


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 off their personal 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 excessive need for sleep during the day may have its origin in a disturbance of the circadian rhythms (see the chapter “Narcolepsy, Parasomnia” ).

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 physical and emotional causes for the postponed sleep phases. Some sufferers, it helps to consistently approach their sleep and recovery to the usual social, even in the free time. In persistent 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 awake 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.

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