The most common sleep disorders - causes and first aid

One in five Germans suffers from sleep disorders, and especially problems falling asleep and staying asleep are widespread. Sleep disorders arise from a variety of causes and not only make you tired, but can have numerous negative consequences on the quality of life, everyday life, performance and our health. We show the most common sleep disorders, possible causes and what you can do in the first instance to sleep calmly and restfully again.

Table of contents

      1. Sleep disorders
      2. Causes of sleep disorders
      3. The most common sleep disorders
        1. Problems falling asleep
        2. Problems sleeping through the night
        3. Sleep-related breathing disorders
        4. Disturbances of the sleep-wake rhythm
      4. Conclusion

      Sleep disorders

      We spend about a third of our lives asleep - at least if we get the average and recommended sleep duration of 7 - 8 hours. However, especially in hectic everyday life or stressful professional life, our sleep often comes too short and so every fifth person in Germany already suffers from sleep disorders. A study by the DAK also shows that working people are particularly affected and that 80% of employees already suffer from sleep disorders and problems falling asleep and staying asleep. Women tend to be affected more often than men.

      We all sleep badly once and are tired, irritable and less efficient the next day. However, falling asleep badly over a long period of time, waking up again and again from sleep or lying awake for hours on end not only damages our daily form, performance and psyche, but can also have serious health consequences such as an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and depression. What we can do to improve our sleep depends primarily on the type, severity and cause of our sleep problems.

      Causes of sleep disorders

      Sleep medicine distinguishes between more than 80 different sleep disorders. We speak of a sleep disorder when we as sufferers feel that our sleep is not restful. Especially problems falling asleep, difficulties sleeping through the night or disturbances of the sleep-wake rhythm are widespread and influence the natural sleep process so much that the quality of sleep is reduced and the night's rest becomes less restful.

      Schlafstörungen: Gesunder Schlafzyklus, Schlafphasen

      There can be a wide variety of causes for each type and degree of sleep disturbance. Factors such as environmental influences (e.g. light, noise, sleep environment) or our own sleep behaviour (bedtime, sleep hygiene) are rather harmless and can be influenced by us comparatively well. However, serious illnesses as well as organic or psychological circumstances can also have a negative effect on sleep and thus place an additional burden on us.

      Important: Chronic sleep disorders can be detrimental to your health and significantly reduce your quality of life, so you should not take a lack of sleep lightly!

      The most common sleep disorders

      Chronic insomnia includes problems falling asleep and staying asleep and is the most common type of sleep disorder. Many people are also affected by breathing difficulties during sleep or disturbances in the sleep-wake cycle and sometimes even suffer from the numerous consequences of these sleep disorders quite unknowingly.

      #1 Problems falling asleep

      Schlafstörungen: Einschlafprobleme trotz Müdigkeit

      Our internal clock is responsible for our body coming to rest in the evening and with increasing darkness the release of the sleep hormone melatonin makes us tired and sleepy - we fall asleep. Numerous external as well as internal influences can affect hormone levels and interfere with falling asleep. When falling asleep after going to bed regularly takes longer than 30 minutes, health experts refer to this as having problems falling asleep.

      Common causes: An irregular sleep-wake cycle, acute and chronic stress, the wrong diet, or external stimuli such as bright lights, noise, and sleep environment can affect hormone balance or disrupt relaxation, which is important for sleep.

      First aid: Observe general sleep hygiene, maintain a regular sleep-wake rhythm, avoid heavy meals and foods high in caffeine and sugar. Tips for falling asleep à here.

      #2 Problems sleeping through the night

      Schlafstörungen: Schlaflosigkeit, Durchschlafprobleme

      Problems with sleeping through the night are most evident in the fact that sufferers keep waking up during the night and find it difficult to fall back asleep. Our sleep usually takes place in fixed sleep cycles, which include both light and deep sleep phases. Involuntary awakening from a deeper sleep phase is particularly detrimental to the quality of sleep, as the body and mind regenerate during deep sleep. Awareness of sleep problems can also lead to stress and agitation during the night, making it even more difficult to fall back asleep. Find out more about the causes of night waking here.

      Common causes: External stimuli such as light, noise, temperature and sleep environment, frequent urination, the wrong diet, physical ailments as well as stress can all cause sleep to be disturbed and make getting back to sleep a challenge.

      First aid: Observe general sleep hygiene and avoid potential disruptive factors even before you fall asleep. For example, reduce fluid intake in the evening, promote relaxation, and stay calm and relaxed during periods of nighttime wakefulness.

      #3 Sleep-related breathing disorders

      Schlafstörungen: Schnarchen, Schlafapnoe und Atemstörungen

      Irregularities and disorders of breathing are also common. These include snoring, for example, but also the occurrence of breathing pauses, known as sleep apnea. Snoring is usually manifested by the typical loud breathing noises, which, however, are due to narrowed airways and can thus directly affect our own sleep, but also that of our partners. Sleep apnea, on the other hand, describes the brief interruption of breathing by pauses of up to ten seconds. These pauses in breathing activate the brain and therefore repeatedly interrupt sleep.

      Common causes: Narrowing of the airways occurs, for example, due to allergies or colds, but also unfavorable sleeping positions and malformations of the mouth and throat can narrow the airways.

      First aid: Overweight, alcohol and nicotine consumption as well as an unsuitable sleeping position can promote breathing disorders during sleep. We have described simple tips against snoring here.

      #4 Disturbances of the sleep-wake rhythm

      Schlafstörungen: Störung des Schlaf-Wach-Rhythmus durch Jetlag, Schichtdienst

      Disturbances of the so-called circadian rhythm occur particularly frequently as phasic sleep disturbances. It is not said for nothing that humans are "creatures of habit", because our internal clock controls our sleep-wake behaviour in such a way that we become tired as darkness falls, sleep during the night and wake up again in the morning at daybreak. When this rhythm is out of balance, it is usually difficult to get restful sleep or to get to sleep at all.

      Common causes: Shift work and traveling through different time zones, in particular, cause us to be active or sleep at unusual times.

      First aid: Avoid frequent changes of sleeping and waking times, because these bring body and mind out of balance and prevent the formation of a healthy sleep pattern. Also interesting: Restful sleep despite shift work.

      Nowadays, there are already numerous dietary supplements and medications that are especially designed to support falling asleep and ensure a good night's sleep. However, many common and especially chemical sleeping pills can suppress natural sleep and also quickly become addictive. If you need help falling asleep, you should therefore definitely look for natural active ingredients and a natural mode of action. Depending on the cause and severity of your sleep disorder, even small measures such as a change in sleep behaviour or the right sleep hygiene can improve your sleep in the long term and ensure that you can start the day full of energy in the morning. Sleep well!


      • Sleep disorders are widespread and already affect 80% of working people in Germany.
      • Sleep disorders can have numerous negative effects on physical and mental health and arise from a wide variety of external and internal causes.
      • The most common sleep disorders are problems falling asleep and staying asleep, sleep-related breathing disorders such as snoring or sleep apnea, and disturbances of the sleep-wake rhythm.

          Best regards and see you soon!

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