Sometimes you get the impression that we live in a strange world. We try to eat healthily, we exercise, we are mindful and are paying more attention to our health than ever. Yet we are sleeping badly, and the problem is only getting worse. Poor sleep is not without its consequences. Lack of sleep increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks, and can lead to diseases such as high blood pressure, depression, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Consequently, lack of sleep increases your risk of dying.
The results of a recent sleep study by researchers at the Spanish Centre for Cardiovascular Research also suggest that people who sleep fewer than six hours a night have a 27 percent higher risk of arteriosclerosis, which can lead to clogging of the veins and potentially even heart failure and strokes.
Germany is also sleeping badly
In Germany alone, an astounding 34 million people suffer from permanent sleep disorders. The DAK once ran the headline "Tired Germany". Approximately ten percent of the population in Western industrialised nations suffer from the particularly severe sleep disorder, insomnia. Women are twice as likely to suffer from insomnia than men. And sleep disorders aren’t only a problem in Germany.
In Poland, 31.2 percent of the population reports frequent sleep problems, while in Italy and Denmark the number is 16.6 percent. The European average is 20 percent. This means that over 100 million Europeans are affected. The first pan-African and Asian sleep study has now shown that sleep problems in the third world are beginning to mirror the levels found in industrialised nations. The reason for this is believed to be the increase in conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, poor sleep quality, daytime tiredness and exhaustion
The fact is, sleep disorders are without doubt a lifestyle disease. The current DAK health report "Germany is sleeping badly, an overlooked problem" is alarming. Increasing numbers of people are having problems falling asleep and staying asleep. Since 2010, sleep disorders among working people between the ages of 35 and 65 have risen by 66 percent, and the trend is continuing upwards. At present, 80 percent of employees feel affected. Insomnia, a particularly severe sleep disorder, has increased by 60 percent since 2010: one in ten employees now suffers from the condition.
Exhausted and drained
This is not without consequences, both for employees and employers. Almost half of the working population feels tired at work (43 percent). Feeling tired means that sufferers are often unable to concentrate. They feel drained, and around a third of all workers (31 percent) regularly feel exhausted. In addition, only a few sufferers seek medical help with sleep disorders, and only a minority report the issue to their employers. Even workers who are suffering from the severe sleep disorder insomnia usually don’t go to see a doctor: 70 percent of sufferers are not receiving treatment.
Only around 50 percent of people come to work feeling fresh, rested and fit. We all know that a good night's sleep is very important for our health. In addition to physical activity and a balanced diet, healthy sleep is one of the cornerstones of our health, not only for the body but also for the mind.
Yet many people rarely or never feel refreshed when they wake up. People can vary greatly in how much sleep they need every night. Children need the most sleep. However, the popular belief that the elderly need less sleep is an old wives' tale. The only difference is that older people go through fewer periods of deep sleep.
Getting to the root of the problem
There are many causes of poor sleep: stress, problems in your private life, psychiatric illnesses, nocturnal breathing disorders, psychosocial problems, brain disease and other illnesses, or even medication. But our sleeping environment and sleeping habits also play a role. So if you want to cure your sleep disorder, the first thing you need to do is work out what’s causing it. Medical advice can also be helpful with this.
Counting sheep for hours won’t help. Andreas Storm, CEO of DAK Health says: “Many people spend the night worrying about whether their smartphones are fully charged, but fail to recharge their own batteries.”If you suffer from a sleep disorder, you also increase your risk of suffering from anxiety and depression.
We have to ask ourselves, what has happened in the last ten years to cause sleep disorders to increase by 66 percent? Deadlines, pressure to perform, overtime, night shifts and constant availability after the end of the working day are risk factors, but these issues alone cannot explain the increase. All we can imagine is that the rise could be related to our frequent use of mobile phones and computers until late into the evening. According to the DAK-Gesundheit study, 68 percent of respondents use their laptops and smartphones in the evenings to take care of private issues, and the majority also carry out work-related tasks, for example answering emails.
Media consumption and exposure to radiation in the bedroom
Many people take their phones and even their tablets to bed with them, watching films and series late into the night. According to the German Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine (DGSM), studies show that 45 percent of 11-to-18 year-olds check their smartphones in bed, and 23 percent check them more than ten times a night. But these devices have no place in our bedrooms, because electrosmog inhibits the release of melatonin and thus disturbs sleep. And the blue light from screen displays also suppresses melatonin production. In short: electricity seriously interferes with sleep. Electrical devices can also have a damaging effect in standby mode. So we recommend that you switch off electrical devices in the evening, including your WiFi.
The Kneipp health resort of Füssen has been dealing with the topic of sleep for a long time. In collaboration with Prof. Dr. Angela Schuh, head of the “Chair for Public Health and Health Services Research (IBE) - Medical Climatology, Spa Medicine and Prevention” at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich (LMU), the Füssen Tourism and Marketing Board has developed a preventative programme based on Kneipp techniques entitled “Healthy sleep through inner order”. The aim of the programme is to overcome non-organic nocturnal restlessness. The heart of the compact cure is the Kneipp pillar of “inner order”.
The Kneipp-based “Healthy sleep through inner order” compact cure is now supported by all statutory health insurance providers. Sufferers of sleep disorders can take advantage of the three-week programme in Füssen from autumn 2021.
Scientifically proven effectiveness
Findings from a scientific study by the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich with almost 100 test subjects confirmed the strategy employed by the Allgäu specialists: their targeted, Kneipp-based interventions improved the quality of sleep in a good 70 percent of involuntary night owls.
Finally sleep well again
Based on the five Kneipp pillars, the following treatments are used in the compact cure, which is recognised by health insurance companies: in the context of hydrotherapy, for example, the therapeutic properties of water are applied in the form of watering, washing and pedalling exercises. The movement therapy pillar employs gentle activities such as Nordic walking to combat insomnia.
In addition, therapists provide information about healthy eating and medicinal herbs for physical and mental balance. Finally, relaxation techniques such as hatha yoga help to reintroduce moments of calm into the lives of people suffering from sleep disorders. In addition, medical consultations, informative lectures and group discussions are held twice a week in order to help people help themselves.
If you can’t or don’t want to travel to Füssen, try the following seven tips, recommended by the German Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine:
1) Create a good sleeping environment: you will fall asleep faster and sleep better in a quiet, darkened room. Alternatively: you can use noise-isolating earplugs and an eye mask.
2) Pay attention to the temperature of your bedroom: make sure that your bedroom is cool (between 16 and 20 degrees Celsius).
3) Watch what you eat: it makes sense not to eat heavy meals in the evening, so that your body doesn’t need to use as much energy for digestion.
4) Avoid stimulants: cutting down on caffeine, alcohol and nicotine will improve your sleep quality.
5) Exercise regularly: exercise promotes good sleep, as your body will be tired and will relax more quickly. However: don’t exercise immediately before going to bed. You should leave at least three hours between exercising and going to sleep.
6) Write down what’s worrying you: we often take issues from work or our private lives to bed with us. To avoid this, it can help to write down what’s worrying you on a piece of paper and put it in a drawer before you go to bed. Don’t take it out again until the next day.
7) Shorten your afternoon nap: the longer the body rests during the day, the less sleep it needs at night. It is therefore advisable to shorten or even omit your afternoon nap in order to restore your normal sleep rhythms.
If none of this helps, try drinking a herbal tea before bed. Valerian tea relaxes the muscles, lemon balm tea has a calming effect on the nerves, camomile tea ensures inner balance, lavender tea relieves anxiety and St. John's wort tea is good for the soul.