What to do when you can’t sleep? Expert shares tips on falling asleep

Mr. Weeß, almost everyone experiences bad sleep at some point. When does it become a problem?

In the clinical-scientific context, we distinguish more than 50 forms of sleep disorders. Disorders of falling asleep and sleeping through the night are among the most widespread. In technical terms, they are called insomnia.

How many people are affected?

Between 6 and 10 percent of people in Germany suffer from insomnia that requires treatment. And: A third of the population counts among the fragile sleepers. Sometimes you sleep better, sometimes worse. But this group does not meet the medical criteria for treatment.

Hans-Günter Wees is a psychological psychotherapist and somnologist. He heads the interdisciplinary sleep center at the Pfalzklinikum in Klingenmünster.

Why do people have trouble falling and staying asleep?

Rarely do these have an organic cause or are the result of side effects from medication. Instead, with most sleep disorders, two psychological components come into play.

There’s no better way to keep yourself awake than trying to sleep.

One of them is that those affected cannot switch off in the evening and cannot stop their merry-go-round of thoughts. You take the big and small worries of life with you to bed. This leads to a psycho-physiological tension. And it is insomniac.

The second problem is that if you don’t sleep well for a while, you observe yourself more and focus on your own inability to sleep. You subconsciously start tossing and turning in bed and say, “I have to sleep now. Why doesn’t that work?” But when you put pressure on yourself, it creates tension again.

What should you do if you can’t sleep?

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I always say: sleep only comes when you roll out the red carpet for it. You should leave your own worries and needs outside the bedroom door – and not think about sleeping.

We live in a non-stop society and undervalue sleep.

Also, don’t take sleep too seriously. Waking up every now and then is part of sleeping. It may be. We wake up between 10 and 25 times a night. We usually don’t know that because it’s much too short. We don’t remember it anymore. It’s only when I’m bothered by the fact that I’m being woken up or awake that I get tense and don’t fall asleep again. Really, there’s no better way to keep yourself awake than trying to sleep.

The circadian rhythms are controlled by circadian clocks or biological clocks.

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It is therefore conducive to sleep if we succeed in gaining a relaxed inner attitude. Being carefree, snuggling up in the pillow and having nice thoughts, that’s what it’s all about. We also convey this to psychotherapists using cognitive-behavioural therapy techniques.

What methods are there?

A thousand roads lead to Rome. In fact, there is a wealth of techniques that patients can use to switch off and stop the merry-go-round of thoughts. And: There is no one method that works for everyone. You have to find out for yourself which one helps, if necessary together with a therapist. The method should be sympathetic to you.

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The brain should be properly occupied, with pleasant content, so that it does not slip into brooding.

Can you give an example?

Many of my patients use imaginary travel techniques to fall asleep. There are guided fantasy trips that can also be viewed online. I also guide my patients to develop their own imaginary journeys. It can be something very banal. The memory of a nice holiday or of the walk that you walk again and again. Then you concentrate on it with all your senses. The brain should be properly occupied with pleasant content so that it does not slip into brooding. Some people also fall asleep well to audio books, podcasts, or even in front of the TV.

What do you think of sleeping pills?

Sleeping pills are actually tranquilizers. They’re like a chemical hammer hitting the head, stopping the circling thoughts. However, this method does not have a lasting effect.

At the beginning you said that a third of people have fragile sleep. Why do so many people sleep so poorly?

First of all, we don’t have much time to sleep because we have to get up early in the morning. This is a problem for many of us. In terms of sleep type, many would probably prefer to go to bed later than work and school allow.

Also, we live in a non-stop society and underestimate sleep. If we sleep a lot, we are a snorer or a sleepyhead. These terms have negative connotations. On the other hand, if we sleep little, then we are efficient and hardworking. Fortunately, this attitude is gradually changing.

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