I am tired. Honestly, I’m always sooo tired and it is starting to interfere with my usually perky persona . This week, I even thought about not writing this column because I felt too tired to form coherent sentences! I am not sick, not depressed, and not even stressed. But see, I wake up at approximately 4:00 a.m. Every day. Usually it’s because of what I call my “4 a.m. furnace”. This refers to the night-sweat that starts somewhere inside my body and quickly escalates to a full body sweat. Gross, huh? Apparently though, I’m lucky, because after the furnace quiets down, I usually fall back to sleep. Way better off than most who are up for the duration of the night, staring at the clock, working, fretting. Did you know that nearly 50% of women over the age of 35 complain that they do not get a full night sleep? Women and “good sleep” seem to be at odds; with this lack of sleep is interfering with everything from our health, productivity, happiness and our success. So, that friends, is my topic this week.
Lets face it, to “perform” our best, we need to be alert, dynamic, energetic, in a relatively good mood, and cognitively sharp (that feels like my most challenging). We need to be able to concentrate, remember, make critical and creative decisions, communicate persuasively, and be productive all day long (o.k. that seems like a tall order in the best of times). But even to have a decent shot, we need Good Sleep. Furthermore, healthy sleep has been proven to be the single most important determinant in predicting longevity.
See sleep is a basic human need, as important for good health as diet and exercise. When we sleep, our bodies rest but our brains are actually remain active (hence dreams). Good sleep lays the groundwork for a productive day ahead. Even though most people need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to function well the next day (and women need more than men), the National Sleep Foundation's (NSF) 1998 Women and Sleep Poll found that the average woman aged 30-60 sleeps only six hours and forty-one minutes during the workweek.
An even more recent 2005 NSF Sleep in America poll of all adults revealed that women are more likely than men to have difficulty falling and staying asleep and to experience more daytime sleepiness at least a few nights/days a week. Research has shown that too little sleep results in daytime sleepiness, increased accidents, problems concentrating, poor performance on the job and in school, and possibly, increased sickness and even weight gain.
According to Sleep Canada, Women are twice as likely as men to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep (post puberty). Although, not true in my house, my husband is a way worse sleeper. Getting the right amount of sleep is vital, but just as important is the quality of your sleep. For women, hormonal factors , psychological issues, most particularly depression as well as pain syndromes, and stress and RLS (restless legs syndrome prevalent in women and occurs at higher rates during pregnancy) are all common causes of insomnia in women.
Sleep Canada states that these biological conditions unique to women, like our menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause affect how well a woman sleeps because the changing levels of hormones that a woman experiences throughout the month and over her lifetime, like estrogen and progesterone, have an impact on sleep. Not to mention taking care of babies, toddlers that don’t sleep, young children with nightmares and sick children.
For the many of us that Good Sleep is just not happening we are feeling desperate to do something about it. The New York Times article, “Mother’s little helper” published a few weeks ago stated that nearly 3 in 10 American women fess up to using some kind of sleep aid at least a few nights a week, according to “Women and Sleep,” a 2007 study by the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit research group. Female patients overwhelmingly dominate sleep-medicine practices. Dr. Nancy Collop, director of the Emory Sleep Center in Atlanta, said three out of four insomnia patients at the clinic are women.
According to IMS Health, a health care consulting firm in Danbury, Conn., the use of prescription sleeps aids among women peaks from 40 to 59. Last year, the firm said, 15,473,000 American women between those ages got a prescription (overwhelmingly for Zolpidem, the generic form of Ambien) to help them sleep, nearly twice the number of men in that age group. Those figures do not include those women who are prescribed anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications, frequently used off-label for insomnia. Nor do they include women who try a glass of wine, more “natural” sleep aids like melatonin or over-the-counter helpers like Tylenol PM.
Holy hot flash ladies these are crazy statistics.
We can’t all start using sleeping pills and melatonin? Can we? My moral compass points to definate No. It would just be wrong and just too scary. But I understand the need to do something about our systemic lack of sleep as a gender. So I did a list of some of the best-known ways to get a good night’s sleep. Any to add?
1. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine in the evenings (for some that might mean afternoons too!)
2. Don't go to bed on a full stomach
3. Take all technology out of the bedroom
4. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule
5. Keep a pen and papers by your bedside so you can write down what you are thinking about, your to-do list, etc.
6. Exercise regularly
7. Have a comfortable mattress, pillow and duvet. Keep room dark!
8. 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)
9. Try earplugs, a white noise machine or even a mask
The truth of the matter is that as women most of us are trying to perform at super-human levels to begin with, to do so without enough sleep is that much harder. Not only is it harder but the way to get ahead, to succeed and maybe even feel happier is with more sleep. Arianna Huffington, of the Huffington Post, did a fabulous and funny TED Talk on the value of sleep. That it is not cool to boast about how little sleep you get, that it does not make you smarter or more important. She humorously encourages women to really “sleep their way to the top”! So if you are suffering from problems sleeping try some of these or find others to work for you. It is too important to ignore. Night Night.