"I barely slept last night. I just couldn't get comfortable."
"I tried to fall asleep, but my mind kept racing."
"I am soooo tired."
Do these statements sound familiar? They do to me. Whenever I mention my sleep research, people often tell me about their sleep. Sleep loss is becoming a very common issue, especially in women. Women have more insomnia than men, with numbers almost doubling in older ages. Furthermore, sleep apnea is now more widespread in women than we once thought.
Women's experience of sleep loss is different, and requires sensitivity to feminine factors that may cause and maintain sleep difficulties. Focusing on ways to get quality sleep can help prevent the many health, cognitive and emotional consequences of sleep loss.
Ladies, fix your sleep now!
Woman #1: Too much going on.
Some sleep-deprived women are superwomen. When their days include a full-time job; caring for three kids; a couple namastes and/or laps at the pool; walking the dog; cleaning the house. Who has time to sleep? These women tell me that their minds constantly race when they try to fall asleep. Some stay up all night counting how many minutes of sleep they have left.
- Notice signs of being overtired: Sometimes it is easy to ignore brain fog, a yawn, or a little moodiness, but this is your body telling you it needs sleep. Listen to your body!
- Work on your sleep hygiene: Take steps to take care of your sleep. This includes reserving the bed for sleep (and sex), and regular sleep and wake times. This may also include a relaxing wind-down routine, such as a warm bath, cup of tea or favorite movie.
- Turn your smart phones and tablets off one hour before bedtime: Besides tricking your body into thinking it is daytime, electronics can remind you of stress. Replace electronic time with pampering time!
Woman #2: PMS or pregnancy.
Some women say they always have insomnia one or two weeks before their period starts, aka when PMS levels can be at their highest. Sleep loss can be related to the fluctuations of female hormones, especially the rapid decrease in estrogen and progesterone before menstruation.
Other women experience sleep disturbance during pregnancy, when the fluctuations of hormones can cause insomnia and extreme fatigue. Throw on top of that needing to pee every five minutes and a growing belly, and you've got yourself a full-blown sleep disorder! Taking care of your sleep during pregnancy is critical for you and your baby's health.
- Keep a sleep diary: Using apps, chart your sleep quality while simultaneously tracking your menstrual cycle. This will help you learn when you need to make accommodations to improve your sleep.
- Make accommodations: If you know when you will have five to 15 days of sleep disturbance per month or even nine months of it, plan to make accommodations. This may mean increasing exercise; trying a relaxation exercise; asking for help from your partner; and taking "strategic naps" (seven to nine hours after you wake up; 30 minutes maximum).
Woman #3: Going through "the change."
Many women who are going through menopause or are post-menopausal suffer from insomnia. This may be due to the hormonal changes, due to uncomfortable night sweats or due to the stress of transitioning into a new phase of life. Some women say their sleep issues are discounted, as doctors may assume it is part of "the change" and will eventually go away.
For some women, that is not the case. It begins as work-related, menopause-related, or pregnancy-related and ends up becoming a problem on its own. The sleep loss becomes a regular thing, lasting years, and develops into insomnia. Every night they battle with another uncomfortable, restless night of sleep.
- Get help!: If you've tried all of the above tips, and nothing helps, you may need to see a sleep professional. The good news is that there is a short-term, non-drug, talk therapy treatment for insomnia that works, called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT:I). It is available by finding a certified CBT:I provider in your area or online from top sleep researchers, such as cbtforinsomnia.com or sleepio.com.
- Sleep apnea?: Snoring and constant tiredness may be signs of sleep apnea. Both pregnancy and menopause can cause increased sleep disordered breathing. Diagnosing and treating sleep apnea are easier these days thanks to home sleep studies, as well as comfortable CPAP masks and CPAP alternatives.
Conclusion: If you are like one of these women, or you have your own version of sleep difficulties, help is available. Be sensitive to your sleep needs. Try these doable and easy suggestions or ask your doctor about sleep specialists in your area so you can prevent the serious consequences of sleep deprivation. Taking care of your sleep is taking care of you!