The West

Lack of sleep a real problem
Lack of sleep a real problem

Lack of sleep is a real problem. Often people don't realise until during the day that their overnight sleep was not truly recuperative.

"Handling sleep the wrong way often is the problem," said Juergen Zulley, a sleep researcher in Regensburg, Germany. Many of those affected can help themselves with an improved lifestyle on the way to a peaceful night.

"Changing your behaviour is not so easy," said Zulley, who has dealt with the issue of sleeping for more than 35 years and is the current president of the German Academy for Health and Sleep (DAGS).

The diagnosis insomnia is not made until the individual's daily activities are clearly impaired from sleep problems every day for more than four weeks. By that time it's definitely time to act.

Many affected seek advice from people with the same problem.

"Of course I cannot give medical advice. The family doctor is responsible for that. But many people are comforted by talking to others and getting tips," said Hartmut Rentmeister, who runs a self-help group in Germany.

Sleep expert Zulley doesn't mind if the initial household remedies are recommended, as long as it's not alcohol.

"A nightcap is not a help but more a hazard for good sleep and one's health," said Zulley.

Warm milk with honey or valerian could help. Audio books and quiet music are also options. Even "counting sheep" can help as it represents a monotonous stimulation, meaning it puts you to sleep. "Relaxation is the main way to get to sleep," emphasised Zulley.

Maintaining certain basic rules is essential for good sleep, such as not going to bed until you are really tired. A comfortable bedroom is also recommended, including the right bed and room temperature.

If the tips and tricks don't help, then the individual should seek out a doctor.

"The family doctor can first rule out if there is an illness that can cause insomnia," said Marie-Luise Hansen, medical head of the competence centre at the Charite university clinic in Berlin. If that's not the case, sleeping pills could help under certain circumstances as long as they are not taken for more than four weeks.

If that doesn't work, a sleep physician should be contacted. "Insomnia is very complex. There is not a standard treatment," said Hansen.

"Nature tells us to sleep when it's dark and be awake when it's lights out. So we train ourselves to wake up at the break of dawn and be active. The time when you wake up is the most important time of the day."

The West Australian

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