Millions of German citizens are affected: they find it difficult to fall asleep or wake up in the middle of the night. Is this already considered a sleep disorder?
When it comes to purchasing the various types of mattress in box, which is best? Somnologist Hans-Günter Weeß gives answers, names the enemy of sleep and explains why too much sleep makes you depressed.
Around five million Germans are affected: they have difficulty falling asleep or wake up in the middle of the night. Is this already considered a sleep disorder requiring treatment?
What helps? Dr. Hans-Günter Weeß, member of the board of the German Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine, provides answers to the most important questions about sleepless nights.
He explains when to see a doctor, names the enemy of sleep and explains why too much sleep makes you depressed.
When do you talk about sleep disorders?
Usually, you mean the problem of not being able to fall asleep or not being able to sleep through the night or waking up too early in the morning.
Clinically and scientifically, however, there are more than 50 different forms of sleep disorders: These include abnormal snoring with respiratory arrest, restless legs at night, sleepwalking, severe nightmares and so on and so forth.
But falling and staying asleep are the most common sleep disorders. We assume that between 5.7 and 6 percent of the German population suffer from it. That would be about 4.5 to 5 million citizens. This makes the sleeping disorder a widespread disease.
Do difficulties in falling and staying asleep have to be treated?
Yes, because not treating them can lead to further diseases. In addition, if one does not sleep, it can lead to performance limitations in the social environment or at work or in traffic.
We know that people with sleep disorders suffer more accidents, that they make more mistakes at work, that they have more absences from work and we know that in the long run, if chronic, unrestful sleep can have numerous physical consequences.
The risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is therefore increased. The immune system can be weakened, as some studies show us.
And there is also a considerably higher risk of mental disorders such as depression or anxiety disorders if the difficulty in falling and staying asleep is not treated.
When do you have to see a doctor? One week of insomnia, is that still normal?
For sleep disorders that last for four weeks and lead to restrictions during the day – which is the prerequisite for the need for treatment – you should see your family doctor.
If the sleep disorder has existed for more than three months, it is considered chronic. In fact, more than 80 percent of patients with insomnia have been suffering from it for more than a year and more than 25 percent for more than ten years.
How is the sleep disorder treated?
First, you have to find out where the sleep disorder comes from. There are many possible causes: It can be caused by other physical complaints or illnesses or even psychological problems.
However, the sleep disorder can also occur on its own, i.e. not as part of other diseases. If you know the cause, you can treat this basic illness. If the sleep disorder comes alone, there are two possibilities: The first is treatment with medication.
These can quickly contribute to a more restful sleep and restore the ability to perform. But: the drugs only improve sleep for the duration of their use, they do not represent a causal therapy.
And you have to be careful not to take the classic sleeping pills for too long, because they lead to habituation and dependence.
How long can one take sleeping pills?
No more than two weeks, four weeks maximum. There are secondary sleeping pills that do not cause physical dependence. These include antidepressants, for example, which can be taken for a longer period of time.
But you must always keep in mind: The tablets have the function to relax the patient and they make him tired, but this is a symptom-oriented approach for primary sleep disorders.
If the patient wants to get rid of the sleep disorder, this can only be done by learning to disengage and switch off and by creating a peaceful, relaxed, safe bedroom atmosphere.
What is the second treatment method?
It starts here; this is the classic behavioral therapy. We offer specialized therapy groups for patients with chronic sleep disorders. Patients learn various techniques to achieve a restful sleep themselves.
They learn to relax. Many sleep disorders occur because the person concerned is physically present in bed at night, but is still wandering around somewhere in the world, mentally and emotionally. There is therefore a strong tendency to brood.