Sleepless through the night
It is night. You lie awake in bed, your “better half” snores the sleep of the blissful, and your brain continues its incessant carousel-like rounds. Your body wants to sleep. Your mind has other plans, however. Many of us have already experienced this in one phase or another in life. Hopefully only temporarily.
Sleep researchers have identified around 80 different sleep disorders. The term sleep disorder is used as a collective term for a large number of different disorders and does not show a homogeneous picture (1). The most common sleep complaints include:
- repeated difficulty with sleep initiation, staying asleep or not feeling refreshed in the morning (insomnias)
- sleep-related breathing disorders such as sleep apnea and snoring
- disturbances caused by too much sleep (hypersomnias)
- disturbances in the sleep-wake cycle as we know them from jet lag and shift work
- disruptive side effects of sleep such as sleepwalking (parasomnias)
- movement disorders that affect sleep (restless legs syndrome)
Over the past decades, sleep disorders diagnoses have increased significantly. They are now among the most common complaints and health problems in the western world. Thus, according to the Robert Koch-Institute about 25% of the population complain about sleep disturbances and 11% experience their sleep as “often not restful”. But we know, restful sleep is crucial for our well-being.
The chicken and egg problem – first herald or consequence?
It is often not that easy to determine whether the sleep disorder is the first sign of a complex, serious medical history or is a consequence of it. Careful epidemiological studies have shown that in patients diagnosed with primary insomnia, i.e. where the absence of an organic or psychiatric disease was diagnosed, over 90% suffered from additional depressive symptoms or from anxiety symptoms. The timing plays a role here. If diagnosed at an early stage, a therapy such as a preventive medical measure could prevent the onset of psychological (secondary) illnesses.
Hypnotherapeutic interventions, especially in the context of primary insomnia, depression, anxiety disorder or addiction, have proven to be effective (2). Sleep disturbances caused during different phases of life, such as during menopause or later in old age or during a strenuous professional phase, can also cause us a lot of trouble. Here too, hypnotherapy can be used as an extremely effective measure.
Restful Sleep – Does gender matter?
Psychological differences between men and women arise from complex interrelationships between biology, development and cultural imprint. In terms of thinking, feeling and behavior, however, the sexes are separated on average less than assumed, according to the summary by the US psychologists Ethan Zell and Zlatan Krizan, who sifted through 106 meta-analyses on gender differences (3). But are men and women different when it comes to their sleep? In summary, it can
be said that
Women have a greater need for sleep than men. However, women in relationships sleep less than single women. Single men, on the other hand, sleep less than men in relationships.
Women sleep more deeply, and this is especially true in their second half of life.
Starting around age 30, men are not so relaxed when it comes to a flexible sleep-wake rhythm.
Women in the first half of life usually go to bed earlier, but also need longer to arrive in the land of dreams. This changes in the second half of life.
The evening drop in core body temperature is less pronounced in women than in men, which also extends the time it takes to fall asleep (and explains cold feet).
It almost sounds like women have drawn the better lot when sleeping, but that would be incorrect. When it comes to the susceptibility of the sleep, according to the director of the sleep center Pfalzklinkum Dr. Hans-Günter Wee?, women of all ages suffer significantly more from problems falling asleep and staying asleep. The causes can be manifold such as multiple stress, menopause, children, pregnancy, hormones and the partner’s snoring. Now, I would like to focus on the latter in particular.
Snoring – a man thing?
Whoever believes that only men snore is mistaken. Women can do it too. Only differently, only in phases, not quite as loud and not quite as often. Snorers can reach noise volumes up to 90 decibels. For this noise level, bedfellows would actually need sound-reducing headphones.
In addition, during menopause, when progesterone levels drop, female snoring increases. This can simply be explained by the decrease in elasticity and the resulting slackening of the upper airways. This can result in a real snoring orchestra in a shared bed – and a less restful sleep – for both of them.
“Separate bedrooms” or rather earplugs?
If you ask couples in relationships about their sleep preferences, the answer is usually “shared bedrooms”. However, objective science recommends something else: if you measure sleep in a shared bedroom, it is mainly men who benefit from it. Sleeping together triggers a feeling of security, safety and relaxation in men – good conditions for a restful night’s sleep. With women, on the other hand, the protective role for the family and the responsibility for their loved ones, which is particularly pronounced at night, emerges.
That sounds like effort and tension – not good prerequisites for a restful sleep. In terms of evolutionary biology, this can be explained by the role of the man as a hunter outdoors in the wild and that of the woman as a mother and protector in the home.
When it comes to the topic of “separate bedrooms”, I often hear uncertainty among couples. The fear that this will mark the beginning of the end of a relationship. Let me reassure you: Those who suffer from a prolonged lack of sleep are more irritable and not a pleasant companion. In addition, if you lack sleep, you have less desire for sex. Studies show that only one extra hour of sleep increases the desire by 14% (4). This additional hour does not always guarantee an increase in desire, because too much sleep is likewise a love killer. For people, who are not getting enough sleep, however, this additional hour could be an optimal means of helping them get on with their desire for sex on the following day. Not to mention the brighter, friendlier mood that comes with it.
This does not have to mean a complete move out of the shared bedroom. Separate nights of rest during the working week might also be a possible approach. Depending on the noise level, earplugs can also bring considerable relief. Finding the right earplugs can take a while and finding a comfortable fit is unique to each individual. There are different types of earplugs, depending on how much noise needs to be dampened. Finding the perfect earplugs can be difficult. Too much insulation can feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable, and too much sound dampening might even cause the user to miss hearing their alarm clock in the morning. Officially, an earplug may only be called earplug if it reduces environmental noise by at least 10 decibels. This corresponds approximately to the acoustic wing beat of an annoying mosquito. However, more elaborate models can reduce the noise level by up to 25 decibels. If we finally manage to fall asleep, luckily a process begins in the brain that reduces sensitivity to noise perception. This allows us to sleep even when our surroundings are not completely silent, because in deep sleep phases we no longer perceive our surroundings.
If you are a “bad sleeper”, let me reassure you
- Restful sleep can be (re-)learned.
- In most cases, snoring is harmless, although annoying. Finding common solutions invigorates a relationship rather than the other way around.
- Early diagnosis and intervention of your sleep disorders may help prevent chronification.
- Hypnotherapy with its possibilities to have a positive effect on the unconscious can be a very effective approach (5).
(1) Hypnose in der Psychotherapie, Psychosomatik und Medizin. Dirk Revenstorf und Burkhard Peter, Springer Verlag
(2) Milton H. Erickson Gesellschaft für Klinische Hypnose e.V.