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This is how you get through times when you don't get enough sleep

Maybe it's the baby that wants to be fed in the middle of the night.

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This is how you get through times when you don't get enough sleep

Maybe it's the baby that wants to be fed in the middle of the night. Or the alarm clock for the early shift rings. There are many reasons why people get too little sleep. And in some phases they are difficult to turn off. But how do you get through the week if you just can't get enough sleep?

"Breastfeeding for the mothers, shift work, these are all situations in life that have nothing to do with healthy sleep-wake behavior," says Ingo Fietze, professor and head of the interdisciplinary sleep medicine center at the Berlin Charité.

After all: Little sleep is harmful to health in the long term, but only when it comes to periods of more than five years. Then, for example, the risk of diseases of the cardiovascular system or diabetes increases.

However, lack of sleep can be dangerous – if you get into the car or operate machines when you are overtired. You should therefore monitor yourself carefully before engaging in risky activities. And when in doubt, it's better to leave them alone, says Dora Triché. She heads the sleep laboratory at the Nuremberg Clinic.

Sleep is the "service for the organism". If it is missing, it can trigger symptoms similar to alcohol consumption, the sleep doctor knows. We can't concentrate as well and don't react as quickly. Many people are also less psychologically balanced and more easily irritated.

In phases with little sleep, the motto is: calmly shift down a gear, if that's possible. And take short naps to combat acute fatigue. “Five, ten, maybe 15 minutes is enough to recover for three to four hours afterwards,” says Fietze. You don't need a sofa for this: the short nap can also have an effect while sitting.

Triché advises young parents in particular to put other things aside for the nap: "Don't quickly clean the apartment or load another washing machine, but then, when the child falls asleep, lie down to sleep for a short time," says Triché, who is part of the Board member of the German Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine (DGSM).

Even if you almost close your eyes, you should not forget to set an alarm clock. Because the nap in between should not be longer than 30 to 40 minutes. And better before 5 p.m. if you want to go back to bed in the evening. Otherwise there is a risk that it will be difficult to fall asleep. And the lack of sleep is getting bigger.

If it is difficult to really nod off in the middle of the day, sleep researcher Fietze recommends taking short breaks of around 20 minutes, during which you sit or lie down and consciously relax. Although this is not as restful for the brain as sleep, it is good for the cardiovascular system.

Also good against tiredness: exercise in the fresh air. Triché advises going out as soon as you get up in the morning – without sunglasses on. Because the sunlight suppresses the release of melatonin, which is considered one of the clocks for the sleep-wake cycle. "It automatically makes you more awake," says the sleep doctor.

If you want to stay awake indoors, you should pay attention to good lighting. "The brighter, the better," says Fietze. With artificial lighting, there should be at least an illuminance of 500 lux.

And of course, a cup of coffee can help you stay awake too. However, it is not necessarily the best choice for getting fit quickly. Like all warm drinks, they make you tired at first, explains Fietze. The awakening effect of caffeine only sets in after about 30 minutes - and then lasts for up to seven hours. A long-term solution to combating a sleep deficit is neither coffee nor energy drinks.

Better: Pay attention to good sleep hygiene. "Especially when you get relatively little sleep due to external factors, it is important that the sleep is of good quality," says Triché. Here it helps to keep the bedroom cool, to ensure rest and to avoid heavy meals and alcohol before bed. Both can disrupt sleep. Exercising properly before going to bed is also not a good idea. "Because then you release stress hormones and can't fall asleep so well," says Triché.

As far as possible, you should try to maintain your usual sleeping rhythm even in stressful phases. Fietze therefore advises shift workers to take part in family life as normal at the weekend – and not to do without it just because you are used to sleeping during the weekday.

It is better to fight the tiredness and then lie down and sleep again in the evening. "As long as you still sleep normally and well on days off or on vacation, the world is perfectly fine," says the sleep researcher. If this no longer works, it is advisable to seek medical help.

In order to be as fit as possible during a night shift, it can help not only to sleep in the morning after the shift, but also to hit your ears again right before the night shift. If you want to lie down immediately after the night shift, you should wear sunglasses on your way home so that you don't wake up again from the sunlight, advises Triché.

The good news is that people cannot sleep in advance. Catching up on lost sleep to a certain extent is definitely possible. Triché therefore advises young parents to split up so that each parent has the opportunity to sleep through or even lie in.

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