The dishes are rinsed, the thriller is over, the teeth are cleaned - slowly it's time to go to bed. But for many people that does not mean they can cuddle up to bed and fall asleep instantly. About 20 percent of Germans have difficulty falling asleep, almost as many can not sleep through the night. Whether from stress, worries, pain or mental health problems - anyone who lazily wallows in bed night after night and drags himself off to work the next morning is in dire need of change. Sometimes a new mattress helps, but in many cases body and mind have to learn to calm down. The head of the Cologne Institute for Stress Reduction, Dr. med. med. Ralf Maria Hölker (46) has developed simple relaxation exercises for this purpose.
About 18 million people in Germany suffer from sleep disorders. What are the most common reasons for this?
Hölker: Often tension situations from the day are taken into the night. These can be current conflicts or long-term burdens such as debt or divorce. This leads to persistent pondering, but also to purely physical tension of the skeletal and respiratory muscles. Even at night, this tension can not solve and thus prevents the body from falling asleep.
When does one speak concretely of a sleep disturbance? If you wake up three times a week for more than half an hour at night?
Hölker: No, that's not exactly what you can say. One speaks of a sleep disturbance as soon as it becomes a burden for the person concerned.
What can one do to not endanger the nocturnal peace?
Hölker: One should avoid practicing sports shortly before bedtime. Optimal, however, is a warm bath or a sauna. Exciting books or movies can produce negative images that also affect sleep. Better are romantic books or comedies. Hearty food is hard on many people's stomach, as well as a dispute with the partner. Conflicts should never be carried out in bed. A good condition for relaxed sleep is a peaceful, harmonious family or partnership situation.
And what does the optimal bedroom look like?
Peoples: The light should be muted before going to bed, because too bright light disturbs the biological clock. In the bedroom it should be as quiet as possible, the windows darkened and the temperature rather low. 18 to 19 degrees are optimal.
Many people with insomnia take one tablet at bedtime. What do you think of drugs for sleep promotion?
Hölker: There are quite helpful medicines, for example preparations with valerian or hops. These should not be taken regularly. Those who use tranquilizers should first be aware of the side effects. These drugs often cause a sleepy feeling the next morning. Incidentally, alcohol also worsens the quality of sleep. Although it makes you tired, but provides for restless sleep with awake phases. Most meaningful to me are those sleep aids, where no side effects occur. After several years of scientific study of the subject, I assume that relaxation is the royal road to sleep.
To relax in the evening, experts often recommend yoga, progressive muscle relaxation or autogenic training. With your method you rely on muscle relaxation and visualization. What's better about your concept than the others?
Peoples: Autogenic training requires some practice. It is an autosuggestive method, so you try to control your own body through the power of thought. Especially when you are excited and tense, this often does not work. Over the course of several years, I have tried together with psychologists in seminars exercises and evaluated the feedback of the subjects. The result was a combination of exercises for tensioning, muscle relaxation and visualization.
What exactly is meant by visualization?
Hölker: Visualization can be found, for example, in dream trips. The speaker takes the listener to beautiful places, such as a Caribbean beach or a pine forest. This creates soothing images in the head, which make it easy for the listener to sleep. The principle basically works like storytelling in children. The positive content, the beautiful pictures and a calming voice make for pleasant dreams.
The result of your research was an audio CD ("Paths to Relaxation + Healthy Sleep", 14.95 euros, in the book trade). How is this structured?
Hölker: After a brief introduction, the speaker first gives instructions for relaxing the respiratory muscles in a calm voice. Then follow other exercises for muscle relaxation and finally several dream trips. Between the parts are short pieces of music with gentle Japanese flute music.
Tell us a little relaxation exercise for the home?
Hölker: A very simple exercise is the "tidal breathing". All you have to do is think of the word "rest" with each exhalation. This is repeated about 20 times in a row and the body relaxes. This is a simple but good way to get down before falling asleep or in everyday life.
And that works?
Hölker: Yes, the exercises are all very simple. However, some subjects found the exercises even more relaxing after several repetitions because they now knew the content.