Dr. Wolfe explains how a woman can improve her quality of sleep.
A lack of quality sleep can occur for a number of reasons. If a woman feels that she has insomnia, there are frequent awakenings throughout the night. A lot of that can be due to social issues, especially for women: bearing children, caring for children, having a bed partner that sleeps next to you and frequently disturbs you. Those things are commonly out of control for that woman. And that’s an issue that can be one of those times when a woman needs to really make the choice to protect herself and protect her sleep. Have someone help with childbearing, talk to your bed partner about how they are disturbing your sleep, make those choices you need to make in order to really say, “My sleep is part of my health and I need to protect that.”
Also, some women have a wonderful sleep environment, and they still have trouble sleeping. We know that this is much more of an issue for women as they age, after menopause, but also young women frequently have issues with insomnia. It’s one of the most common complaints that young women have. Oftentimes that insomnia is limited, two to three weeks, around the time of a very stressful event.
During that time there are many things that you can do to protect that you will continue to have good sleep down the road. Exercise is fundamental. Women that exercise--well, people that exercise in general--sleep better than those that don’t. About a half an hour’s worth of exercise can make a big difference in sleep quality at night.
If you are having trouble falling asleep, we recommend that you do your exercise with about two hours to rest before you go to bed. If you exercise very close to bedtime, it actually can rev you up and make it more difficult to sleep.
After exercising, a hot shower and getting into a cool bed helps to really relax the body and allow you to fall asleep. Trying to keep your in-bed time and out-of-bed time the same makes a big difference. In fact, people that are shift workers, those who work third shift or frequently have changing times that they work, it’s a real challenge for them. So as much as you can protect that in-bed and out-of-bed time, you will sleep better.
Also, if there are specific anxieties or stresses in your life that you know are causing you not to sleep, you need some strategies for how you are going to handle that. You know, the mind for many people with insomnia doesn’t just shut down. Thoughts will continue to come in unless you can find something to put in that brain to take that stressful thought and get it out of there.
Frequently we ask women to have diaries–worry diaries. They may even keep it next to their bed so that if you are thinking about something like, “Tomorrow, I have to go to the post office,” write that down on the piece of paper, keep it out of your way.
The other thing is to find something relaxing to occupy your brain. Relaxation exercises like stretching or even yoga exercises can help to put relaxing thoughts into your brain, keeping those stressful thoughts away. Also, what we call imagery therapy–bring a pleasant image into your mind, a nice vacation or a pleasant walk on a beach, and really engage yourself in thinking about that thought, and it will help to keep the worried thoughts away, allow you to relax and go to sleep.
Lastly, and this seems sort of ironic, we call it sleep restriction therapy. We ask folks that if you are just laying in bed and you are not sleeping to get up out of bed, because if you start to associate your bed and your bedroom with the frustration of not sleeping, then every time you come into that room, you will experience that stress before you even get into bed.
So if you are not sleeping, get up, get out of bed, go into a dimly lit area and do a boring activity like playing solitaire, and then when you are really sleepy, get back into bed. Now initially, you are going to lose sleep. Don’t nap. Naps during the daytime are terrible for good quality sleep.
Ultimately, that sleep loss one night will make you sleepier when you get in bed the next night, and then you’ll sleep. So it’s a little pain for a little gain, but sleep restriction works well.
About Dr. Lisa Wolfe, M.D.:
Dr. Lisa Wolfe, M.D., earned her medical degree from Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health. She completed her residency and her fellowship at McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Wolfe is board certified in pulmonary disease, critical care medicine and sleep medicine.
Visit Dr. Wolfe at the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation