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Sleep disorders - what helps?

5 Oct 2023


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Sleep disorders - what helps?

Why sleep is so important

The human body uses sleep for regeneration. The organs reduce their performance somewhat during sleep and can recover.

Deep sleep phases (so-called non-REM) alternate with superficial sleep phases (so-called REM) at intervals of about 90 minutes.

The deep sleep phases are decisive for regeneration, during which the immune system also recovers, repairs are carried out on the cells and hormones are released. The metabolism is on the back burner and dreams are rare.

In the REM phases, on the other hand, people often dream and process the impressions of the previous day. They are characterised by rapid eye movements and also serve to cope with stress.

In an "optimal" night, i.e. when you would say "I slept well", deep sleep and REM phases alternate four to five times.

Restful sleep is not a given.

"Sleep well!" is a common phrase used when someone goes to bed. An innocent wish with a serious background: if good sleep were a matter of course, the phrase would not exist.

But restful, relaxing sleep is not a matter of course. Many people toss and turn restlessly in their beds, stare at the alarm clock, unable to find any peace. Meanwhile, time seems to pass at a snail's pace. The next day, you are correspondingly tired and unable to concentrate.

Problems already when falling asleep

A common reason for problems falling asleep are "sleep-preventing" habits that make it unnecessarily difficult for the body to rest. Changing these habits can often help you to fall asleep more quickly.

To do this, the sleep-disrupting habits must first be identified. For example, reading in bed can have a negative effect. Fixed bedtimes, on the other hand, usually have a positive effect.

Tips for falling asleep as a "first aid

If you can't fall asleep, you should try common tips for falling asleep as a first measure. They often already help. Almost all of them start with sleep-disturbing habits:

The bed is only for sleeping

It's nice and comfortable, but you shouldn't read, watch TV, surf the internet on your smartphone or tablet etc. in bed. Even if you supposedly fall asleep quickly - restful sleep does not usually start that way.

"Cosy and warm" is not conducive to sleep

A bedroom temperature of 18 degrees should be sufficient. Because when the body goes into sleep mode, it lowers its core temperature by up to 1.5 degrees. Too high a room temperature, constricting sleeping clothes or thinking too thickly interfere with this natural process - and thus also with sleep.

Sleep rituals and relaxation before bedtime

The most important and obvious sleep ritual is a regular bedtime routine. Circulation-stimulating activities should also be avoided shortly before bedtime. This means sports, cold showers or even discussions.

Eat dinner (right) on time

Try to eat dinner at least two hours before going to bed - light food is preferable to a sumptuous dinner. Food has to be processed and digested. And as long as the stomach has to work at full capacity, the rest of the body will also find it difficult to rest.

Sleep cannot be forced

Falling asleep "on command" does not work. If you put yourself (or others) under pressure, you usually have the opposite effect. If you cannot fall asleep or wake up during the night: Don't stay in bed too long without sleep. Instead, occupy yourself with monotonous activities that do not tax the mind too much. Tidying up or sorting laundry are tried-and-tested classics - but you should avoid smartphones and TV sets.

Keep your airways clear

You have probably already experienced how difficult it is to sleep with a cold. But it is not only the irritation of a cough and a cold nose that impede sleep, but also everything else that makes breathing difficult - allergy sufferers can tell you a thing or two about this. Therefore, if you have such problems, you should use or have at hand something that, in your personal experience, soothes irritated respiratory tracts: whether cold balm or allergy bedding.

Support through dietary supplements

Nutritional supplements are also very popular to help with sleep disorders. They are sometimes specialised in certain areas of application according to the substances they contain.

Melatonin

The best known is probably the "sleep hormone" melatonin: it helps to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep or to alleviate the subjective sensation of jet lag.

Melatonin is produced by our bodies, but caffeine, alcohol, tobacco use, stress and night shifts can lower melatonin levels in the body. Taking melatonin can therefore help these individuals to restore their sleep rhythm to normal and find restful sleep. However, the correct dosage and time of intake are important for its effect.

GABA

GABA plays an important role in the central nervous system. It can help calm the nerves, especially when you are particularly agitated, anxious, nervous or stressed. GABA also reduces mind wandering and promotes falling asleep and more restful sleep.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an amino acid that plays an important role in the central nervous system. It is a messenger substance that inhibits or blocks nerve impulse transmission, especially during periods of stress.

Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that cannot be produced by the body. When you take tryptophan, it is converted into serotonin - a neurotransmitter responsible for controlling mood.

Tryptophan, or L-tryptophan, acts as a natural mood enhancer as it helps the body to produce certain hormones naturally. Tryptophan-rich foods or tryptophan supplements naturally calm, promote restful healthy sleep and reduce anxiety and depression.

5-HTP

Stress, poor diet and too little exercise cause our brains to produce too little serotonin - a neurotransmitter that, among other things, controls our ability to sleep soundly.

5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is an amino acid that is the intermediate step between tryptophan and the important brain chemical serotonin. There is ample evidence that low serotonin levels are a common consequence of modern lifestyles. The lifestyle and dietary habits of many people living in stressful regions result in low levels of serotonin in the brain.

L-theanine

L-theanine (or just called theanine) is a free amino acid found almost exclusively in the green tea plant and accounts for about 1 to 2 percent of the dry weight of tea leaves.

The calming effect of green tea may seem like a contradiction to the stimulating properties of the caffeine in tea - however, it can be explained by the effect of theanine. This amino acid counteracts the stimulating effects of caffeine on the nervous system.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha (also called sleep berry, Indian name Withania somnifera), is one of the most important medicinal herbs in Ayurvedic medicine and one of the most widely used Indian medicinal plants worldwide.

Ashwagandha reduces stress-related symptoms by reducing the amount of cortisol in the blood. This ability is based on the mechanism of action that limits the activity of cortisol. This reduces the amount of cortisol in the blood serum and returns the body to a state of self-regulation.

Passionflower

In naturopathy, the passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) is mainly valued for its leaves. However, preparations made from passion flower may also contain flowers and fruits.

It is not clear which ingredient of the passion flower is responsible for its usefulness for nervousness and restlessness. It is also possible that a mixture of different ingredients is responsible for the calming effect. Passion flower is said to achieve its effect by inhibiting the reuptake of the messenger substance GABA, which is important for mood and sleep behaviour, at the corresponding receptors.

Valerian

A very well-known plant for helping with sleep problems is valerian. The valerian roots are used, which contain essential oil and lignans, among other things. Valerian is used against nervous restlessness and promotes falling asleep and staying asleep.

It usually takes several weeks before the effects of taking valerian become noticeable. Valerian preparations are considered to be well tolerated. Nevertheless, the recommended dosage should be followed carefully, as, for example, the ability to drive a car may be restricted or a combination with other sedatives may be problematic.

Lavender

Originally from the Mediterranean region, lavender is now widespread in all climatically temperate zones of Europe. The large lavender fields of Provence in France are famous: bright purple flowers as far as the eye can see.

Folk and empirical medicine knows various household remedies such as lavender oil, lavender tea or lavender tincture, which are said to have a positive effect on sleep, among other things. Today, preparations containing lavender are also available in the form of capsules to take.

© Picture: Sven Vietense / Fotolia


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