Women and Sleep

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Why is it important to get enough sleep?

Sleeping well is very important to your health and overall well being. Healthy sleep:

  • Helps you stay emotionally balanced.
  • Keeps your memory and brain working well.
  • Helps your body fight infections.
  • Results in better work habits and fewer accidents.

How can I develop healthy sleep habits?

There are many ways you can help yourself sleep better. You may make changes to your habits or routines. For example:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, even on weekends. If you get 5 hours of sleep a night during the week and 10 on the weekend your body will be confused. Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. (You may need more, or less; what is right for you is the amount that leaves you refreshed and alert when you wake.)
  • If you nap during the day, nap early in the afternoon and for only 20-30 minutes. Longer naps can make you feel groggy and napping late in the afternoon can make it difficult to fall asleep at night.
  • Get regular exercise. This helps you sleep soundly, but do not exercise within four hours of bedtime.
  • Limit your intake of caffeinated drinks (coffee, soft drinks, tea) to 1-2 cups during the day and cut it out completely in the evening.
  • Stop smoking, or try not to smoke in the evening. Both caffeine and nicotine are stimulants.
  • Do not drink alcohol before bed. It can lead to wakefulness throughout the night.
  • Create a restful atmosphere in your bedroom. Make it as dark and quiet as you like it. Use your bed for sleeping and sexual activity and leave paperwork, TV watching, eating, etc. to other areas. Turn the clock away from your face. Bodies prefer to be cool while sleeping, so bedroom temperature should be around 18°C.
  • Create nightly rituals that tell your body and mind that it's time to go to sleep. Put the dog out, bathe, read, listen to relaxing music, lay out your clothes for tomorrow–whatever you choose, try to be consistent.
  • Try a relaxation exercise in bed. Slowly, tense and relax the different muscle groups from your head to toes, one by one, while breathing deeply and slowly. Concentrating on this can make it easier to let go of worries and fall asleep.
  • If you can't fall asleep and don't feel drowsy, get out of bed and do a calming activity. Return to bed when you feel sleepy.

How can I relax enough to go to sleep?

Many women can't get to sleep because, as tired as they are, they are also worried or thinking about all the things they have to do.

If you have worries, try to take care of them during the day. Make a To Do list, or simply write down what you are worrying about. This may be enough to allow you to “let go,” at least until tomorrow. You may want to keep a notepad by your bed so that if an important thought comes to you, you can record it rather than worry about remembering it in the morning. If you are stressed, look for ways to help yourself relax. You might try yoga, meditation, or other relaxation techniques.

What else could be keeping me from sleeping?

Many things could be keeping you from sleeping well. Some of these have causes that need to be addressed on a society-wide level. Women who live in poverty and live in inadequate housing, shelters or no housing at all face many serious stresses that may keep them from getting a good night's rest. Many women live in abusive relationships that rob them of sleep. Women with disabilities and women with untreated mental illnesses have other issues that can interfere with their sleep.

Women with children, too, often don't sleep well. Babies and young children often need attention during the night, and mothers often can't find the time to nap to make up for lost sleep, especially if they are parenting alone.

What are some ways I can help myself sleep?

Hormones also affect women's sleep patterns throughout the various stages of life.

Try to be aware of your body and where you are in your menstrual and life cycles. Consider why you might be waking. If it isn't stress or worry keeping you up, could it be frequent trips to bathroom? Hot flashes? Are you pre-menstrual? If you can recognize the underlying cause, you may be able to make helpful changes or understand that things will shift on their own.

Women who work shifts face a unique set of challenges. The guidelines above are still useful when they are appropriate, but in addition you may want to look for specific advice on dealing with sleep and shift work.

If you try the suggestions above and continue to have trouble sleeping for over six months, talk to your health practitioner about possible causes.