The days when late risers were seen as layabouts are long gone. Instead, a newfound awareness for the importance of sleep is growing in our meritocratic society. Jan Stritzke is deputy medical director at the Lanserhof Tegernsee health resort, where he works with a programme which combines state-of-the-art technology with traditional naturopathy. An interview about the complexity of sleep, as well as a few simple tips for catching better Zs.
COMPANION: A few hours sleep per night or a power nap now and then — isn’t that enough?
Dr. Jan Stritzke: People still underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep. Sleep is a phase during which our bodies regenerate. A very important aspect of fat burning occurs while we sleep. We reinforce what we have learned and process experiences. Young children need it to ensure healthy growth. Yet the medical community is peculiarly reluctant to accept the importance of restful sleep. Often it will take years until individuals receive a diagnosis of insomnia, let alone successful therapy.
A widespread problem. The number of people in the workforce who suffer from sleeping disorders has risen by over 60 percent since 2010. How do you explain that?
Stress in the workplace due to rationalisation, intensification, the pressure to succeed, varying work hours, and frequent switches between time zones — these are just a few of the aspects of our modern world of work that can have significantly detrimental effects on how we sleep. Besides that, constant availability is a common feature of our working lives. This means that a clear distinction between our professional and personal lives is no longer possible. The lack of balanced leisure pursuits after work merely exacerbates the issue. We don’t spend enough time exercising outdoors or enjoying family life, et cetera. This impacts negatively on our lives.
For a while, so many of our successful role models seemed to live by the motto ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ Now, however, sleep is acquiring a new image, including in the boardroom.
Absolutely! People are beginning to realise that sleep is integral to a healthy lifestyle. Besides a healthy diet and sufficient exercise, preventative medicine is increasingly turning its attention to the pathologies of physical and mental stress.
New mattress concepts, teas, and many other products in the wellness industry have turned sleep into a lifestyle topic as well. Is it all humbug?
It’s positive if society realises that good sleep is an essential factor for health. But you can’t just write a prescription to remedy it. How often do we go to bed early and then spend the whole night tossing and turning? People need to approach the topic in a calmer way. We won’t die from one rough night. But it is important to do something if sleepless nights become more frequent. That said, we all need different things. Treatment must address the specific sleeping disorder at hand.
You work with the Lans Better Sleep Programme 2.0 at the Lanserhof Tegernsee health resort: the idea is to use technology and naturopathy to create perfect sleep. Is good sleep really that complicated?
Yes and no. Sleep is very simple for people who do not have insomnia. After all, they practice it every night. But it can soon become overwhelming if you start having problems. There are tips from friends and relatives, or things in the media. The issue is complex. Often at Lanserhof we help by listening carefully, presenting a clear diagnosis, and then selecting a suitable therapy.
So good sleep is something we can learn?
I could give you a whole list of possible therapies. But very few of our patients manage to change their everyday habits completely. And if they do, it usually doesn’t last long. That’s not our goal, in any case. We aim to produce noticeable improvements by introducing small changes to the everyday routines of our patients. Besides that, we want to educate people — and solve their problems at a personal level.
Doctor Stritzke’s Sleeping Tips
- Try to work out which chronotype you are: an early bird or a night owl. Leading a life that conflicts with your body’s natural rhythms will eventually lead to poor sleep.
- Avoid too much blue light caused by televisions, smartphones, or tablets, as it reduces the secretion of melatonin, which promotes sleep.
- Avoid energetic activities like sport in the evening.
- Adhere to established rituals and try to go to bed around the same time each night — including on weekends.
- Work out the level of noise that you find pleasant in the bedroom — some people need absolute silence, while others find it easier to sleep if they can hear the gentle whispering of the wind.
- People sleep better in a cool, well-aired bedroom.
- Only use your bedroom for sleep.
- Find suitable ways to reduce your stress levels and try to avoid taking your problems to bed.
- Send your snoring partner to the doctor first — they might have sleep apnoea — and then take your bedding with you into another room.