Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why Do So Many Women Have Issues With Sleep?

Did you know that nearly 50% of women over the age of 35 complain that they do not get a full night sleep?  And did you know that women are twice as likely to have sleep problems vs men?  

I know that I am one of them.  I usually don't have too much trouble falling asleep (unless my husband is watching TV in bed or he falls asleep first and snores).  My issue is that I often wake up any time after 2 or 3am and toss and turn until the alarm goes off at 5am.  I also wake up when a child sneaks in my bed during the night.  And then there's the problem of falling back to sleep if I awaken from either the kiddy visit or my husband's snoring.  Although I will tell you that the snoring has improved immensely - my husband had his uvula removed this past fall (that dangly thing in the back of his throat) because his snoring and sleep apnea were so bad you could hear him from 3 doors over.  The recovery from the surgery was awful, so we don't recommend it unless it's a last resort.  Anyway, the white noise machine is definitely a permanent fixture in our bedroom.

While I have issues with sleep, my husband can pretty much fall asleep in an upright position.  I've also seen this phenomenon in my dad and my brother.  Is it a male thing???  My husband can lie down and be out cold in less than a minute.  And if he gets woken up during the night, he can fall back to sleep in less than a minute.  He is often totally unaware of the nighttime activities that transpire in our house.  The next morning I can tell him full stories of a crisis that occurred with one of the kids and he'll have no clue.  And we don't have a huge house - it's not like he's asleep in another wing or something.

So why do women have so many issues with sleep and why do they get worse as we get older?  Well, according to an article I found on, our sleep habits start to change in our 30's and 40's - apparently our ovaries start slowing down which means we produce less estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that promote sleep.  The article also quotes Dr. Carol Ash, DO, the Medical Director at the Sleep for Life Center in New Jersey where she states, “There is a biological basis for insomnia and just being female is a risk factor for insomnia. The menstrual cycle and menopause all complicate the normal sleep patterns. And unfortunately, as we age the changes in hormones that causes sleep problems.”   Great!  I'm so excited.  Can't wait!  Sleeping pills here we come!

OK, wait.  Hold on, before popping pills, here are some tips I found to help you sleep better.

All of the advice I have found was pretty much the same:
  • Make your bedroom a "sleep zone" - no TV, computer, books, etc.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine in the evenings
  • Don't go to bed on a full stomach
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule (i.e. go to bed and wake up at the same time every day)
  • Keep a pen and paper by your bedside so you can write thoughts down and forget about them until the next day
  • Exercise regularly (but not right before bed)
  • Make your bedroom cool, dark and quiet
  • Have a comfortable mattress and pillow
  • Develop a relaxing bedtime routine
  • If it takes longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep, get out of bed and go somewhere else in the house to relax (keeping it quiet and dim)
And I guess some ear plugs or a white noise machine for those of us with husbands who snore!

Getting a good night sleep (and enough sleep) is so important for so many facets of our life - when we are tired we are less productive, more stressed and irritable, have a lower sex drive and immune system, get more headaches and muscle aches... just to name a few.  Sleep is when our bodies regenerate and if we don't have that opportunity, it puts our health at risk.  And if you are a working mom, juggling a million priorities, sleep is non-negotiable for our sanity.  It's time to stop joking about how sleep deprived we are, and look at it as the more serious issue it really is... So to all my sisters out there like me, let's get some rest!

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