#TryItTuesday: Sleep, Oh Sleep, Where Art Thou?
Recently a friend posted on Facebook “Urgghghhh, it’s 3 a.m., and I’m wide awake.”
When I saw her comment the next morning, I replied… “ME too!”
While I wasn’t surprised at my friend’s or my middle-of-the-night “I can’t sleep,” it did surprise me to read how many women our age commented "Me too!" on her post.
What I thought was something that I alone was suffering with turns out to be a common health challenge for many middle-aged women.
A 2015 National Health Interview Survey reported that women going through midlife aren't getting enough sleep. This survey reported that:
- More than one in four middle-aged women reported experiencing difficulty falling and staying asleep four or more times during the week.
- More than one in three women reported getting fewer than seven hours of sleep per night, on average.
- One in two women reported they did not wake up feeling well rested four times or more in the past week.
Of those, perimenopausal women were the least likely to sleep seven or more hours a night. This was followed closely by postmenopausal women. Studies are showing that our shifting hormones greatly impact our ability to fall and stay asleep.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women within our age range (40–60) should receive seven to nine hours per night on a regular basis. As many are experiencing, our reality is that getting the recommended amount of sleep is something many of us just dream about.
And if the frustration of insomnia isn't enough, by not getting the recommended amount of sleep, us sleepless ladies are at increased risk for chronic conditions and other adverse health outcomes.
For me, not getting enough sleep significantly impacts my weight, energy, focus and mood. Days following a night of insomnia have me craving chips and soda, which has led to an increased weight gain. Also, on those days it takes me twice as long to complete normal tasks that require focus, and I’m a bit moodier.
Summer Health Goal: Good Sleep Habits
While I can’t control my lack of hormones, there are several modifiable choices I can make to assist me in keeping insomnia away.
Some changes I’ve recently implemented in my lifestyle:
- I try to walk 10,000 steps (or run/swim for 20 minutes) every day.
- I try to eat supper around 6 p.m.
- I have a light snack (low-sugar/high-protein) like yogurt, cottage cheese, crackers and hummus, or almonds if I feel hungry at bedtime. Once or twice a week, I’ll wake up at 3 a.m. starving ... I’m finding that being aware of my hunger before going to bed and having a light snack has made a difference. I noticed the waking up hungry is especially true on the days I’ve exercised and/or had a lighter evening meal.
- I set my phone alarm for 8 p.m. Often after dinner, I’ll spend an hour or two working. If I get caught up in a project, I can lose all track of time. There are many nights I look at the clock and it’s like, “Oh, no, it’s midnight.” Setting my alarm at 8 p.m. as a reminder that it’s time to get ready for bed has helped dramatically.
- I turn the thermostat down 2 to 4 degrees at night. Just this slight difference has made a significant impact on my ability to stay sleeping.
Some additional habits that can improve your sleep health:
- Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing and at a comfortable temperature.
- Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers and smartphones, from the bedroom.
- Avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.
It’s important to practice good sleep hygiene, but if your sleep problems persist or if they interfere with how you feel or function during the day, you should seek evaluation and treatment by a physician, preferably one familiar with assessing and treating sleep disorders.
Before visiting your physician, keep a diary of your sleep habits for about 10 days to discuss at the visit.
Include the following in your sleep diary, when you—
- Go to bed
- Go to sleep
- Wake up
- Get out of bed
- Take naps
- Consume alcohol
- Consume caffeinated beverages
Give yourself a gift of good health: make sleep a priority.