Women and sleep
If you are a woman, you’re probably well aware that you have more difficulty snoozing than men. Here are simple steps to remedy resting shortfalls:
Editor’s note: Savvy mattress retailers want to do everything they can to help their customers sleep better, including offering them sound advice and tips. Feel free to share this great guidance from Better Sleep Council spokeswoman Lissa Coffey with your shoppers (with credit given, of course). The BSC is the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, you’re not alone. The numbers are astounding—more than 70 million Americans suffer from some kind of sleep disorder, including insomnia. With our hectic lifestyles, that number isn’t too much of a surprise. But did you know that women are twice as likely as men to have difficulty falling or staying asleep? Let’s take a look at the reasons behind this troubling phenomenon and what steps they can take for a better night’s sleep.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
During pregnancy, a woman’s body works overtime. Naturally, fatigue sets in. During the first trimester of the pregnancy, women may find themselves sleeping more than usual, and this is normal because their bodies need more rest. Yet, as the pregnancy progresses, sleep may be interrupted by nausea—and morning sickness doesn’t always happen in the morning. Pressure on the bladder causes frequent trips to the bathroom at night, disrupting sleep. A wave of emotions and anxiety about the lifestyle changes that come with having a child also may creep in and interfere with sleep. Plus, pregnant women tend to shift around to find a comfortable sleeping position as their belly grows larger. When the baby arrives, sleep patterns are further disrupted by having to get up to breastfeed. New moms miss as much as six months of sleep in the first two years their baby’s life.
What to do
- Sleep when you can. Some women might never have felt the need for a nap previously, but once they’re pregnant, it’s often all they can think about. Don’t feel guilty—indulge. This is nature’s way of making sure you get the sleep you need. If you are spending your days in an office, see if you can find a private place to snooze. Many employers have set up dedicated areas for employees to take power naps and they find that productivity increases.
Whoever said “sleep when the baby sleeps” probably had a housekeeper and chef. Once the baby arrives, don’t be afraid to call relatives or friends to help out so you can catch up on missed nighttime sleep. You also might network with other new moms and take turns with your own naptimes. A 20- to 30-minute nap is all you need to feel refreshed. More than that can make you a groggy or keep you up later at night.
- Embrace body pillows. One of those long, huggable pillows can be placed between your knees and give your arm a place to rest while keeping your spine nicely aligned. Comfort is key when you’re pregnant, so if you’ve never tried a body pillow before, now is the time. Worked for me! And even with my babies all grown up, I still sleep with my body pillow.
Many women experience sleep disturbances when they are premenstrual. Although insomnia is the most common, other symptoms include difficulty falling or staying asleep, difficulty waking up, and experiencing fatigue during the day.
As we age, the body’s production of the “sleep hormone” melatonin slows, making it more challenging to fall asleep easily. And then, once we get to be around age 40 or so, we enter into perimenopause and the production of both estrogen and progesterone starts to decline, as well, affecting our sleep. Once we hit menopause, this spiking and falling of hormone levels causes hot flashes that wake up the brain and can be accompanied by night sweats. Doctors say that sleep problems during this time in our lives is one of the first signs of menopause.
What to do
- Watch your diet. A plant-based, high-fiber diet helps lower estrogen levels and control hot flashes.
- Eat melatonin-rich foods. Supplement your diet with melatonin-boosting foods such as pineapple, bananas, oats, sweet corn, rice and barley.
- Choose comfortable sleepwear. Choose pajamas and bed linens that are made with all-natural fabrics like cotton that can breathe to help keep you cool. Pajamas should be lightweight, loose and comfortable.
Stress, even more than hormones, is a significant cause of sleeplessness. According to the American Psychological Association, women are more likely than men (28% vs. 20%) to suffer from stress. Sources of stress range from family and relationship issues to career and money problems. Stress can bring with it headaches, depression, anger, irritability and/or indigestion—all of which exacerbate sleep issues.
What to do
- Relax your mind and body. Mindfulness practices such as meditation can make a big difference in relieving stress and helping you sleep, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
- Get sunlight and exercise every day. Exercise not only helps us burn energy, making us feel sleepy at bedtime, but it also gives us an outlet to channel our emotions, helping us feel less stressed. Natural sunlight boosts vitamin D and helps set our circadian clock so our body naturally rests at night, when it is supposed to.
- Return to nature. Spending time outdoors, under a tree, looking at the blue sky or walking barefoot in the grass helps ground us and gives us a perspective on the things that might be troubling us. Time in nature not only improves the quality of our sleep, but it also reduces stress, thus improving the quality of our lives.
- Break the stress cycle. The less sleep we get, the more stressed we feel. The more stressed we feel, the less sleep we get. If we can break the cycle even for one night, we can begin developing better sleep habits and feel more energized during the day.
- Invest in rest. A mattress is the foundation of a good night’s sleep. Make sure to evaluate your mattress on a regular basis and replace it when it is worn out, typically every five to seven years. According to the Harvard Business Review, women make the buying decisions for 94% of household items. Women need to know that having a quality mattress will improve their sleep, which improves health, both physically and mentally. As the saying goes: “When mom’s happy, everyone’s happy!”
Lissa Coffey is a relationship expert, author and broadcast journalist. She writes for eight websites, including CoffeyTalk.com, WhatsYourDosha.com and the Better Sleep Council’s site, BetterSleep.org. A BSC spokeswoman, she stars in several videos that offer sleep and mattress-shopping tips for consumers.