Subjective insomnia: Sleepless nights often just a dream experience?

Insomnia - just a bad dream?

It has long been known that lack of sleep is a health hazard. Some people don't rest at night - at least that's what many think. Because, as researchers have now been able to show, sleepless nights often only take place in dreams. Although this is also stressful for those affected, it enables new therapies.

Sick from too little sleep

Those who do not get enough rest at night endanger their health. Studies have shown that lack of sleep increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke, obesity and diabetes, among other things. But according to surveys, around every fourth German does not sleep enough. Some people find no sleep at night - or they think that is the case. Because researchers at the University Medical Center Freiburg have now shown: Sleepless nights often only take place in dreams. This does not make them less stressful, but it enables new therapies.

In many cases, insomnia is just a bad dream

As the Freiburg clinic wrote in a message, insomnia is perceived as very stressful by those affected. You feel tired, poorly performing and unable to concentrate.

However, insomnia can often not be measured.

"Most patients who report severe insomnia sleep around 80 percent of their normal workload in the sleep laboratory," explains Dr. Bernd Feige, research group leader at the Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital Freiburg.

Scientists have been looking for the reason for this discrepancy between subjective perception and objectively measurable sleep duration for around 20 years.

Researchers at the Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University Medical Center Freiburg now provide an objectively measurable explanation for the first time.

In the specialist magazine "Sleep" they describe that in many cases insomnia is just a bad dream.

Subjects awakened from the REM phase

The Freiburg researchers invited 27 subjects with severe sleep disorders and 27 healthy sleepers to the sleep laboratory for their study. During the first two nights, the study participants got used to the environment.

During the two nights that followed, the scientists woke the test subjects with a signal tone from the REM phase, which is also referred to as the dream phase.

As soon as they woke up, the study participants pressed a button and a study member asked them in the darkened room. The first question was: "Did you just sleep or were you awake?"

The astonishing result: "Although all subjects were awakened from their dream sleep, every sixth subject with sleep problems was sure to have been lying awake," said Dr. Cowardly. In contrast, healthy study participants almost never thought they were awake.

Fear of a sleep disorder is built into the dream

When asked about their last memory before the beep - i.e. about their dreams - the supposedly awake subjects reported excruciating thoughts about not being able to sleep.

“Obviously, some people incorporate worry about a sleep disorder into their dreams. So you only dream of a sleep disorder, says Dr. Cowardly.

In their survey, the employees avoided terms such as "dreaming", "waking up" and "sleeping" in order not to give the test subjects any indication of their condition.

Dream therapy could help

“It is very important: It does not make a difference for the patient's stress whether the sleep disorder can be measured objectively or is only present in a dream. But the knowledge gives us valuable information on how to treat the sleep disorder, ”explains study leader Prof. Dr. Dieter Riemann, spokesman for the sleep medicine center at the University Hospital Freiburg.

Established dream therapies could help those affected, or medication aimed at strengthening the dream phase.

"Insomnia can be a serious illness and increase the risk of other serious illnesses, such as depression or stroke," says Prof. Riemann.

Many insomnia patients are very performance-oriented, focused and planned. “But exactly this strategy does not work with sleep. Sleep comes when you let go of expectations, ”says Prof. Riemann.

A healthy lifestyle promotes good sleep

A healthy lifestyle and refraining from late eating, coffee, nicotine, alcohol and intensive sports in the evening are fundamentally conducive to restful sleep.

Even those who observe regular sleep times and reduce their weight in the event of being overweight can significantly improve their sleep.

Various home remedies can also help with sleep disorders. A calming tea made from passion flower or chamomile, for example, has proven itself to relieve tension and alleviate inner restlessness.

Relaxation techniques for stress relief such as autogenic training or progressive muscle relaxation can also be very effective. (ad)

Author and source information

Video: The relationship of sleep to recovery and performance in elite athletes Mary Morrell (December 2021).