Serie English for PTA: A Good Night’s Sleep

von by Jane Funke and Hannelore Gießen

Sedatives and Hypnotics-- Saying goodnight is often rounded off with something like: „Sleep well“ or „Sleep tight.“ Little do we realize that almost half of the population feel that they are being made fun of, as they suffer from sleeping disorders.

Frau mit Schlafmaske im Bett

© KrisCole / Getty Images / iStockphoto (Symbolbild mit Fotomodell)

Originalartikel als PDF

A sleep disorder can affect the overall health, safety and quality of life. Sleep is essential for well-being and performance. Chronic restrictions or disturbances may not only lead to serious health problems but can also be responsible for mistakes and accidents.

Biological Rhythms Navigate Sleep

Getting good, restorative sleep is not just a matter of hitting the hay at night and waking up in the morning. Regulated by the body’s clock, sleep is made up of different stages, all of which are important.. Understanding these needs can help to achieve better sleep.

When someone falls asleep, their sleep progresses in cycles throughout the night, moving to and fro between deep restorative sleep, the more alert stages and dreaming. As the night proceeds, more time is spent in dream sleep and lighter sleep. There are two main types of sleep: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is when most of the active dreaming is done. The eyes actually move back and forth during this stage, which is why it is called REM sleep. Non-REM (NREM) sleep consists of four stages of deeper and deeper sleep. Each of these stages is important for the overall quality of sleep, but deep sleep and REM sleep in particular.

A Matter of Sleep Hygiene

Good sleep habits – sometimes referred to as „sleep hygiene“ – can help with getting a good night’s sleep. Some habits that can improve one’s sleep health:

  • Keep to a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even at weekends or during vacations.
  • Don’t go to bed unless you feel sleepy.
  • If you don’t fall asleep within about 20-30 minutes, get up again.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Only use the bed for sleep and sex.
  • Medical Treatment

Although there are several sedatives and hypnotics on the market, it is not easy to treat sleeping disorders adequately and the drugs available are a long way from being the ideal solution to the problem. In the Sixties benzodiazepines were developed and made an impressive career. For certain conditions and diseases e.g. seizure disorders or anaesthesia they are essential. They do, however, show a considerable risk for addiction . In treating sleeping disorders only short-acting substances should be applied in order to avoid hangover impairment the follow-ing day and their use should be limited to the shortest time possible, i.e. no longer than six weeks.

Nowadays, the so-called z-drugs zolpidem, zopiclone and zaleplon are preferred to the benzodiazepines. The risk of addiction for the patient might be less pronounced but it exists nonetheless . As a result, each of these substances should only be taken short term and not on a regular basis.

The over-the-counter (OTC) insomnia drugs on the market – the two antihistamines diphenhydramine and doxylamine – bring other problems with them. These, however, are mainly anticholinergic effects resulting in dryness of the mouth, problems with micturition , constipation and dizziness . Because of this, there are plans to limit the OTC use of these drugs to people under the age of 65. Elderly people have a higher risk of anticholinergic trouble resulting from dizziness and related falls. Fur-thermore, this risk increases with the intake of other anticholinergic drugs e.g. against prostatic hyperplasia. The first recommendation besides sleep hygiene is to take herbal remedies containing valerian, hops, lemon balm or passion flower.

Jane Funke ist geborene Britin und erstellt als native Speaker gemeinsam mit Apothekerin Hannelore Gießen seit vielen Jahren die Serie „English for PTA“, die sich mit klassischen OTC-Themen befasst.





stärkend; kräftigende Wirkung

to hit the hay

in die Falle gehen, sich aufs Ohr legen

to and fro

auf und ab, hin und her

back and forth

hin und her


Konsequent; gleichbleibend





hangover impairment

hier: beeinträchtigende Nachwirkung


trotzdem, nichtsdestotrotz











lemon balm


worn out

hier: erschöpft

bad tempered

schlecht gelaunt

to doze off

einnicken, wegnicken



to toss and turn

sich hin und her wälzen


PTA: Good afternoon, can I help you?

Customer: I’d like something to help me sleep. I’ve been having a lot of restless nights lately.

PTA: Have there been any changes in your life?

Customer: Well, it was all very stressful during the Corona lockdown with the kids not at school, me in home office and so on. That’s all improved now since our summer holiday.

PTA: Can you describe how you feel during the day?

Customer: Colleagues have told me I look worn out . I’m bad-tempered , irritable and tired. I can’t concentrate on my work and I even dozed off during a business meeting yesterday. That was so embarrassing .

PTA: Oh dear. Do you take any medication?

Customer: I take the anti-baby-pill but that’s all.

PTA: Does anyone in your family suffer from depression?

Customer: I don’t think so. My grandma may have done.

PTA: When do you eat your main meal?

Customer: Usually around 6.30 pm and I try to keep it healthy.

PTA: Do you get plenty of exercise in the fresh air?

Customer: Not as much as I’d like.

PTA: What about coffee and alcohol?

Customer: I drink quite a lot of coffee, mainly to stay awake but very little alcohol.

PTA: Too much coffee can be contra-productive as your body adjusts to the higher intake. Do you go to bed at a regular time?

Customer: Yes, around 10 pm because I have to be up before 6 am but I either just toss and turn or I sit up and play games on my laptop until my eyes close.

PTA: Your bedroom should be kept cool and dark and preferably free from all electronic equipment such as a TV or laptop. And you could try to establish a bedtime ritual. Have a warm bath, listen to some gentle music or an audio book. We have a good selection of herbal teas with hops and valerian for example, designed especially to help the body relax.

Customer: I’m not really a tea drinker. What about sleeping tablets?

PTA: Well, sleeping tablets should be a last resort. I would suggest trying herbal remedies first. Some are available as tablets or capsules. They are more concentrated than the teas, so take them as directed with sufficient fluid. Try keeping a sleep diary for a week or two. That may help to pinpoint the cause. If there is still no improvement, you should arrange to see your healthcare provider to make sure there is no underlying illness such as a thyroid disorder.

Customer: Okay, I’ll do that. Could you recommend a suitable herbal remedy, please?

PTA: Yes, of course.

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