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Falling asleep quickly, sleeping all through the night, and waking up refreshed and pain-free in the morning – the ideal combination. But what should you do when sleep becomes a problem? Ergotherapist Verena Langlotz Kondzic knows all about it.

Counting sheep to fall asleep – does that help?

There are clearly better methods. For example, progressive muscle relaxation using the Jacobson technique has proven effective. It works by tensioning and relaxing the muscles. It's a simple procedure, you can learn it on a course or with videos and then quickly apply it in everyday life. Another efficient method for falling asleep is hand shiatsu – you press certain pressure points on your hand. This, too, is quick and easy to learn and apply. 

Most people have a preferred sleeping position.

It varies from person to person. Many people can lie however they want and they have no problems. Others wake in the morning with neck, shoulder, or back pain. For these people, it is recommended that they lie on their back or on their side. The important thing is for the natural shape of the spine to be maintained when sleeping. Many people do sleep on their side, but they lie in the "banana position" without knowing it. The shoulder may not sink down enough and the spine is bent like a banana – this must be avoided at all costs. Many people affected in this way then try to take the pressure off the shoulder with higher and higher pillows, which only makes the situation worse. Only a suitable mattress will bring any improvement.

A man is sleeping on his side on a bed. His spine is seriously bent. Such a "banana position" should be avoided.

Not to be advised: In the "banana position", the pressure is poorly distributed, which can lead to pain.

What should you watch out for when buying a bed or a mattress? 

If you want to sleep well and lie ergonomically, you should have the right bed. Hard mattresses or very soft mattresses are not good for your health. Adjustable slatted frames and mattresses are recommended. These support the spine in its natural shape, relieve the intervertebral discs and enable the muscles to relax and the pressure to be distributed. 

Ho do I go about finding the right bed?

The first thing is to find a specialist bed retailer. The IG-RLS “Richtig Liegen und Schlafen” [Lying and Sleeping Correctly] interest group may help, for example. Over 30 bed retailers who will offer expert advice are listed on its website. Also very important: Try them out! Test the products when lying on your side and on your back. What does it feel like lying on them? Only you can judge how comfortable it is. You should also ask about the terms and conditions. In the case of the IG-RLS members, the bed and mattress will be adjusted until they really fit. If you are still not satisfied in spite of this, you can return the bed you bought within 10 weeks – and get a full refund of the purchase price.

5 tips for a good night’s sleep

  • Invest in an ergonomic bed and a good mattress.
  • Make sure the room temperature is between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius. 
  • Do no sporting activities for two hours before you go to bed. 
  • Don't drink coffee or alcohol in the evening. 
  • Sleep in a dark room.

What does a sleep-promoting environment look like?

There are four environmental factors that have an influence on our sleep. Temperature, light, materials, and noise. Ideally the room temperature should be between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius. But your body temperature is also a crucial factor, because to go to sleep it first has to fall. For that reason you should not do any sporting activities for two hours before going to bed. On the other hand a hot bath does promote sleep, because your body temperature falls automatically after taking a bath. Another factor is light – a dark environment helps you to go to sleep. Blue light, in contrast, such as from a mobile phone, keeps you awake. In a sleep-promoting environment it is also quiet, and the textiles are temperature-equalizing.

Parents of small children often suffer from a lack of sleep. Are there any ways of compensating for lost sleep? 

Short-term lack of sleep can be got over, but in the long term it becomes a problem. In this case you should try to sleep for about 90 minutes during the day. This means that you go through a complete sleep cycle, which is better than a power nap that does not permit any deep sleep. However, if your lack of sleep lasts any longer you should definitely visit your doctor!

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    Verena Langlotz Kondzic

    Verena Langlotz Kondzic (45) is an ergotherapist and lecturer at the ZHAW School of Health Professions. She has specialized in the “Influence of environmental factors on sleep”, is a member of the international network “Sleep OT” and a mother of three children – one of whom would not sleep through the night for three years.

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