Woman tired with sleep problems

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Problems falling asleep: causes and tips for falling asleep quickly

Are you one of those people who sleep well but have trouble falling asleep? This article shows you the typical causes of problems falling asleep and what you can do to shorten your sleep time and start the new day in a more balanced way.

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Table of contents

What causes sleep problems?

The quality of your night's sleep determines how fit and rested you feel during the day. During sleep, your body and mind recover from the stress of the day and get the processes in your head and cells back on track.

Reading tip: You can find out how the sleep phases actually work, what happens in your body during each phase and why sleep is important for your well-being in our big sleep phase overview.

However, if you suffer from sleep problems or insomnia, you may feel exhausted after waking up and complain of symptoms such as poor concentration, nervousness and tiredness during the day. Problems falling asleep also have a negative effect on your well-being.

When do we speak of sleep onset disorders?

It is quite normal that it sometimes takes longer to gently drift off to sleep. Most people need between 5 and 20 minutes to fall asleep, but it can also be 30 minutes.

A long duration is not a sign that you are suffering from a sleep disorder. It is only when people have persistent problems falling asleep that they have a sleep disorder. This affects adults as well as children.

If the problems falling asleep or sleeping through the night occur

  • over a period of four weeks
  • at least three times a week, and
  • tips to help you fall asleep have no effect on you,

experts refer to this as insomnia.1

You're not alone with problems falling asleep

Wie oft klinisch relevante Einschlafstörungen bei Erwachsenen in Deutschland auftreten, hat das Robert Koch-Institut zwischen 2008 und 2011 untersucht. Demnach traten Einschlafstörungen bei 13,6 % der weiblichen Erwachsenen zwischen 18 und 79 Jahren und bei 8,6 % der erwachsenen Männer auf. Women over the age of 60 are even affected in 18.2% of cases.2

Infographic study on insomnia in adults in Germany

What can cause problems falling asleep?

There are various factors that can make it difficult for you to fall asleep and affect the quality of your sleep. We have summarized the most important internal and external factors for you here.

Internal factors

Your thoughts just won't settle down? Are you worried because you have an important deadline for work tomorrow? Maybe you're annoyed about a situation that happened to you in your private life during the day, or you're stressed out at times in your office job.

No matter what you're worrying about - if the carousel of thoughts just won't stop, inner restlessness is the result and can lead to difficulty falling asleep and sleep disorders. Mental health problems such as depression or anxiety disorders are also the reason why many people can't get a wink of sleep in the evening.

External factors

In addition to triggers in the head, the reasons for difficulty falling asleep and insomnia can also lurk in other places in your environment. Common causes include a full stomach, medication that you have to take temporarily, alcohol or caffeine in the evening, too little exercise in everyday life or too much sport in the hours before bedtime.

People in professions where shift and night work are common also often suffer from problems falling asleep. This is because it is much easier for the body to fall asleep if it is allowed to rest and sleep at roughly the same time every day.

Insufficient sleep hygiene

This brings us to the point of sleep hygiene: this includes various factors that influence your sleep and that you can actively optimize, such as your bedtime ritual. Noise, temperature and lighting conditions in the bedroom also play a role.

If you are not taking sufficient care of your sleep hygiene, this could be a reason for your problems falling asleep.

Physical causes of sleep problems

In addition to internal and external factors that affect your sleep, a physical illness can also be the reason why you lie awake late at night. In this case, it is advisable to work with a doctor to find the causes and treat them.

Heart disease and neurological disorders such as restless legs syndrome, where the legs are restless, can be triggers for problems falling asleep.

Can sleep problems be treated?

Occasional and mild problems falling asleep can be remedied with various measures. It is important to know the cause and do something about it.

For some people, even small changes in everyday life, a routine sleep rhythm or relaxation exercises help them to fall asleep more quickly in the evening.

When should you see a doctor if you have problems falling asleep

If you have problems falling asleep for weeks or months and even changes to your diet and sleep routine don't help, you should seek advice from a doctor.

Together you can find out the causes of your problems and decide whether an overnight stay in a sleep laboratory or taking medication is necessary. Behavioral therapy can help with psychological triggers or depression.

Tips: What helps with problems falling asleep?

After all the theory, you're now rightly wondering what you can actually do to fall asleep faster.

Remember: falling asleep is not a race against time and there is no target you have to reach. Rather, it's about making your path to sleep as carefree as possible and not giving problems falling asleep a chance.

Find your individual sleep rhythm

Human sleep follows a certain pattern and consists of several sleep stages that are repeated several times a night. If you always go to bed at the same time whenever possible, it will be easier for your body to go through the sleep cycles.

The best time to close your eyes and how much sleep you need depends on your individual needs and your chronotype, i.e. whether you tend to go to bed early like a lark or are a night owl who only really blossoms in the evening and prefers to go to bed later.

A good way to determine your type and ideal sleep duration is to do a little sleep experiment on vacation: if possible, go to bed whenever you get tired for several days and skip the alarm clock. After a few days, your body will find its natural sleep rhythm, which you should ideally stick to after your vacation.

Which light color is suitable for problems falling asleep?

In addition to the sleep rhythm, it is also helpful to know how the day-night rhythm works and how you can use it for better sleep.

Here's what's behind it: Natural light influences our internal clock. During the day, when the sun is shining brightly, we are awake and active. In the evening, when it gets darker, the body relaxes and prepares for a good night's sleep.

This means for your sleep:

  • Blue light, emitted by cell phone or laptop displays for example, is similar to the light of the midday sun and has an activating effect.
  • Warm light, on the other hand, which emulates the evening sun, promotes tiredness.

Ideally, your bed should therefore be a cell phone-free zone and the place where you often spend time in the evening should be bathed in warm light colors.

Light color scale & effect

Try hot milk with honey

Some people swear by hot milk with a teaspoon of honey. This nightcap is said to promote sleepiness because milk contains tryptophan. This amino acid helps your body to produce the sleep hormone melatonin, which signals to it: It's time to sleep.

However, the amount of tryptophan contained in a glass of warm milk is hardly enough to have a noticeable effect on your sleep. However, children in particular like the taste and the cozy warmth of the drink, which therefore has a positive effect on relaxation and well-being, at least in this respect.


Establish a sleep ritual

If you have the problem of circling thoughts that won't let you sleep, then a bedtime ritual might help you. This will take your mind off things, create structure and help you switch off.

  • Podcast to help you fall asleep: Perhaps you liked your parents reading you bedtime stories as a child? The modern version is podcasts. Search for sleep podcasts on the streaming platform of your choice and don't forget to activate the blue light filter on your cell phone beforehand.
  • Do relaxation exercises: Help your body to calm down, for example with a relaxing meditation or breathing exercises.
  • Write a to-do list: Writing a to-do list before going to bed doesn't sound very relaxing at first. However, this ritual can help you to get an overview of the next day's tasks, roughly structure your day and fall asleep with peace of mind.

Supporting the sleep process with melatonin

Your body already has an important and completely natural sleep aid on board: we are talking about the body's own sleep hormone melatonin. Problems falling asleep or sleep disorders are often caused by a lack of melatonin.

A lack of melatonin occurs, for example, when blue screen light inhibits the production of the hormone or your internal clock is out of balance due to traveling in other time zones or shift work. In these cases, there are melatonin supplements that can help.

Conclusion: Take problems falling asleep seriously and fix them

If you sometimes find it difficult to fall asleep, try our strategies. You can find even more inspiration and tips for better sleep in our guide to better sleep.

If you have sleep-related problems that affect your performance and well-being in the long term, it is advisable to find out the causes together with a doctor.

Once you know whether stress or an illness is the culprit, you can tackle your sleep disorders in a targeted manner and soon fall asleep and sleep through the night in a relaxed manner.

This article is based on carefully researched sources: