Do you keep checking your alarm clock at night when you can’t sleep? That’s wrong, says Hans-Günter Weeß. Because it does the opposite: if you want to fall asleep, you stay awake. The expert’s top tips for a good night’s sleep.

Mistakes in one’s own behavior or internal malpositions can cause and intensify sleep disorders. Changing the sleep-disrupting behavior can lay the foundation for improving sleep. Sleep researchers speak of sleep hygiene in this context. However, this does not mean that the patient should always go to bed with a good shower. No, it’s about getting the patient back into behavior that’s compatible with sleep. This includes all measures and behaviors that promote restful sleep.

It is important that everyone finds out their own individually effective strategies. The rules for healthy sleep are the prerequisites for learning healthy and restful sleep again. But they only represent a therapy module and not the whole therapy. I mention this for a reason. It has been my experience that both patients and, occasionally, physicians feel that behavioral changes constitute the entirety of therapy. The astonishment and helplessness are often great when, despite all the tricky and imaginative changes in behavior, there is only a small partial success – if at all.

Rule 1: Regular bedtimes promote the ability to sleep.

Get up at the usual time in the morning, even after a bad night, and don’t make up for the sleep you think you’ve missed by going to bed longer in the morning. Because the time from getting up later until the following evening is possibly far too short. There is not enough waking time to build up enough sleep pressure so that you can easily fall asleep the following evening.

Hans-Günter Weeß has been dealing with the topics of sleep and sleep disorders for more than 25 years. He is a board member of the German Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine and head of the interdisciplinary sleep center at the Pfalzklinikum Klingenmünster. Weeß has written several books on the subject of sleep, including “Sleep Works Miracles” and “The Sleepless Society”. He also developed the online program “Fit through healthy sleep”.

Rule 2: Less is more! Too long bed times promote sleep problems.

Insomniacs tend to stay in bed way too long. This is often because they want to increase the chances of sleep, true to the motto: “If I just lie here long enough, sleep will come eventually.” Others, on the other hand, think that if they can’t sleep, they will should rest at least for a sufficiently long time. Too long bedtimes, however, mean that our subconscious no longer associates the bed with sleep and relaxation, but rather with being awake, brooding and struggling to sleep. The latter leads to tension, and tension is the enemy of sleep!

In the 3 Sat program “Secrets of our sleep”, Hans-Günter Weeß, together with other international experts, explains what we know about the function and importance of our sleep. The science documentary will be published on Thursday, February 17, 2022 at 8:15 p.m.

Rule 3: A pleasant bedroom atmosphere supports sleep!

Sleep can only take place under completely relaxed conditions. It is important that the person feels good physically and mentally. A pleasant bedroom atmosphere, which has nothing to do with everyday life, work and problems, has a supportive effect.

Objects that are reminiscent of everyday life, possibly work or other stressful circumstances, should be banned from the bedroom. Likewise the television (see rule 7). Subjectively pleasant colors and furniture can help.

Rule 4: The temperature in the bedroom should not be too high and not too low.

Temperatures around 18 degrees Celsius are ideal. Extreme temperatures are a stressor for the body. Everyone has experienced how a bedroom that is too warm or too cold can prevent sleep. It is sometimes particularly difficult to get a good night’s sleep, especially on hot summer nights. The pajamas from the fridge, only a bed sheet as a blanket, a warm shower before going to bed, warm drinks, the damp sheet in front of the window and ice water in the bed bottle are usually only small sleeping aids.

“Sleep works wonders” by Hans-Günther Weeß

Some bedfellows, on the other hand, think that the lower the temperature in the bedroom, the deeper the sleep. In winter, the temperatures in the bedroom are such that wafts of mist form when you breathe out. Even such extremely cool temperatures are actually stress for the body. He has to do work to warm the air. Work is tension, and you know, tension is the enemy of sleep.

Rule 5: Avoid daytime sleep.

Although the afternoon nap has a health-promoting and performance-enhancing effect, people with insomnia should avoid sleeping during the day if possible. Sleep during the day reduces the pressure to sleep in the evening and thus promotes problems falling asleep and sleeping through the night as well as their chronification.

Rule 6: Sleeping on TV is the number 1 sleep killer!

Although the whole of Germany sleeps best on the couch in front of the TV, sleeping on TV in the evening is the number 1 sleep killer! The first sleep pressure is relieved and later falling asleep in bed is prevented due to the lack of sleepiness. Furthermore, after sleeping on the couch with the subsequent physical and mental activity, such as doing the evening toilet, the sympathetic nervous system responsible for activity is reactivated, giving the body the signal for alertness. He can then not switch back to sleep so quickly afterwards in bed. The sleeper is awake for now.

Rule 7: TV sleep is not restful! Avoid the TV in the bedroom!

Many patients have found that they can switch off easily in front of the television. Everyday life recedes into the background, the television program itself is often not very stimulating or stimulating and relaxation sets in. If you’ve been awake long enough – and that’s usually the case in the evening – enough sleep pressure has built up and sleep occurs unconsciously and, for many, unnoticed. Many people who are not good at switching off and relaxing take advantage of this effect and take the television with them into the bedroom. However, sleep in front of this background noise is not deep and sound. Due to TV noise, sleep is fragmented by many, large and small, wake-up reactions. Restful sleep stages, such as deep and dream sleep, are not even reached. During the day, those affected feel tired, listless, irritable and not well rested

Rule 8: Physical and sporting activity with enough time between going to bed!

Many think that if they only work out enough during the day, then sleep must inevitably occur. But this is not the case, especially if exercise is too close to bedtime. Our body is still tense. An interval of at least two hours between physical activity and going to bed activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is important for sleep, and allows the influence of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for waking up, to subside.

Rule 9: Heavy and late meals are not a good bedtime treat!

Heavy meals that are high in fat and carbohydrates, such as pork knuckle with dumplings, should be avoided right before bed. When one part of the body, the stomach, is doing heavy work while the rest of the body is supposed to be resting asleep, the two don’t add up. But hunger is not a good pillow either. There is little to be said for a small meal in the evening, even close to bedtime. After all, the lion sleeps after eating the wildebeest.

Rule 10: No caffeine after 1pm!

Caffeine can last up to 11 hours, robbing you of sleep. That’s why you shouldn’t drink coffee after lunchtime. On the other hand, there are enough people who can sleep well despite the consumption of caffeine – even right before bedtime. Because of this, everyone should become their own expert and determine for themselves how caffeine affects them. However, if in doubt, avoid it. By the way, black tea can have the same effect as coffee. However, a cup of black tea (150 ml) contains about half as much caffeine (30-60 mg) as a comparable cup of coffee (50-150 mg). This only applies if the tea has not steeped for more than 2 to 3 minutes.

Rule 11: Alcohol is not a good sleep aid!

Alcohol has a tiring and mentally relaxing effect. Actually an optimal means to promote sleep. But: Alcohol suppresses deep sleep in too high “doses”, promotes nightmares and increases nocturnal wake-up reactions and wakefulness. That’s why alcohol is not a good advisor – and not just for insomnia. The following applies to men: no more alcohol than is contained in a quarter liter of wine. And for the woman only half applies. Not because women are treated less, but because women’s livers metabolize alcohol less well than men.

Rule 12: No better way to keep yourself awake than trying to fall asleep. Don’t look at the alarm clock at night.

The mental preoccupation with sleep, the (lack of) sleep ability, can significantly disturb the inner relaxation in the bedroom. Negative thoughts about the insomnia, fears of waking up too early in the night and not being able to go back to sleep, lead to increased inner tension and restlessness, which further aggravates the sleep disorder.

A first hint in the context of the behavioral therapy treatments of our patients is aimed at banishing the alarm clock from the field of vision at night and no longer looking at the clock at night. Especially for patients with problems falling asleep and staying asleep, who already have a high need for control due to their personality structure, a relaxed approach to sleep is of therapeutic importance and a first step towards healthy sleep. Only those who can let go and relax experience sleep. Excessive nocturnal control increases tension and thus intensifies sleep disorders.

Rule 13: Not only children benefit from a bedtime ritual!

Establish a (temporarily) bedtime ritual. A bedtime ritual has the function of creating a buffer between everyday life and the bed situation. This buffer helps the sleeper to distance himself from the tense tasks and demands of everyday life and to create the physical and mental relaxation necessary for falling asleep.

Find your individual sleep ritual that best relaxes you personally. This can be reading a light book in the evening, listening to music or a relaxing evening walk. Or go to a quiet place and tell your journal what happened throughout the day.

Rule 14: Stop the merry-go-round of thoughts and release yourself in good time in the evening

About an hour before you go to bed, you should call it a day and leave your big and small worries outside the bedroom door. Relaxation is the royal road to sleep. Once in bed, everything is allowed that brings about the sleep-promoting relaxation. Read a good book, listen to an audio book, carry out relaxation procedures, whatever you like is allowed. There is no one right method for everyone.

1000 roads lead to Rome, i.e. to relaxation that promotes sleep. But maybe a little tip: Many of my patients are listening to the fairy tale cassettes from their childhood again. They distract the brain from stressful thoughts and promote feelings of safety and security, as one often experienced as a child listening to the cassettes. These feelings are the highway to relaxation.