Sleep Deprivation and Women
For some reason women are more prone to sleep deprivation than men. Twice as females than males say they struggle with insomnia. Furthermore, it appears that seventy-five percent of women do not get the recommended eight hours of sleep each night.
Most modern women would not be surprised by these findings. After all, a woman’s brain and body are much more complicated than a man’s. It seems as if women’s bodies never stop making complex biological changes — changes that can keep a good night’s sleep elusive. These changes include menstrual periods, pregnancy and menopause. Women have had to deal with this since the dawn of time. Now modern women can add contemporary life that might include single motherhood and demanding, stressful jobs.
When we look at the life cycle of a woman’s life we tend to see a pattern. During the early years, the 20s and 30s, pregnancy, childbirth and just being a mom can make sleep deprivation a constant companion. Later on, during the 40s and 50s women are beginning to struggle with hormonal changes. This is also the time when family concerns can become problematical: children leaving home – or coming back, possible separation or divorce, an awakening that life has to be more than it is, the search for one’s self. After 60 it is easy to decrease daily activity. In addition to making the body more lethargic, some scientists think that a change in outdoor activity for older people may decrease exposure to sunlight. This, in turn, can mess up a person’s internal clock
What can we do to overcome sleep deprivation?
I suppose the easy answer would be, "Well, just get more sleep." As is often the case, such simplistic responses are useless. Perhaps one of the most common responses to sleeplessness is medication. Over fifty million prescriptions are being written for sleeping pills every year.
This sounds like a simple and effective solution but it really isn’t. Most experts agree that taking medication to overcome continuing sleep problems should always be a last resort. As a temporary fix, it is probably benign. The problem with such an approach is the side effects issue. Consumer Reports found out that "Sixty-three percent of those who took sleep medications experienced side effects; 24 percent said they became dependent on the medication they used; and 21 percent said that repeated use reduced the drug's effectiveness."
Many drugs have a dramatic effect on different stages of sleep. One of the side-effects is somnambulism mentioned above. One woman found out she had eaten an entire box of chocolates during the night with no memory of having done so. Dommon effects of sleep medication are trouble waking up, headaches or nausea, feeling tired or dizzy. Some people say they feel as if their head is full of cotton in the morning and they can’t really think clearly. Even newer drugs like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants can significantly reduce REM sleep for months or years. Most sleep specialists believe that long term use of sleeping medication can mask the real causes of sleep deprivation which, aside from real medical causes, are almost always life style issues.
If personal issues are serious, the best results occur when a person sees a psychologist skilled in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). This approach offers the most effective remedy for sleep problems. At the beginning of such treatment, temporary use of medications can help to kick-start CBT.
How much sleep do we really need. It depends on age and here is the consensus:
- Newborns and infants may need as much as 16-18 hours of sleep (including naps) each day.
- Toddlers between the ages of 3-6 should have 10 to 12 hours every 24 hours.
- Children who are between the ages of 6 and 9 are at their best with about 10 hours of sleep.
- Beginning at age nine and continuing through adolescence kids need a minimum of about 9 nighttime hours.
- Adult sleep is generally supposed to run between eight and nine hours. A few adults are wired to live on four to five hours sleep with no detrimental effects.
- Some experts think seniors may find they need as much sleep as children, including naps.
A comfortable environment can contribute much to a good night’s sleep. Although often difficult to do, going to bed at the same time every night, including weekends, can help your brain find a helpful sleep rhythm. One often overlooked issue is the pillow and/or mattress. If your mattress is more than ten years old, you may want to consider checking out a new one. Many sleep problems go away with a better mattress.
Many people find that predictable and soothing rituals about thirty minutes prior to bedtime can help make the transition to a sound sleep. Each person needs to find their own pattern but here are some suggestions that have helped others: a hot bath can lower your body temperature helping you to enter the first sleep stage more easily; using relaxation/meditation techniques; drinking a cup of hot tea or a glass of milk; reading something interesting that takes concentration and effort. Read until your eyes begin to close or until you find yourself reading the same sentence over and over. Some people set a clock radio to soothing music that will turn itself off in about a half hour. If you try this and are still awake when the music shuts off, look at the suggestions in the next paragraph. Whatever works for you, do the same thing every night.
In addition to what to do, you need to also avoid certain behaviors. Alcohol, caffeine and even food will stimulate your brain and make it harder to get to sleep if taken less than two hours before bedtime. It is helpful to get rid of anything that can stimulate your brain including sounds, light, lively music and pets. Avoid bringing anything work-related to bed. Computers and televisions can also offer too much brain stimulation.
Worry will have the same effect. After you have turned out the light and you find yourself tossing but not sleeping thirty minutes later, it is best to get out of bed and stop trying to sleep. If worry has kept you awake, then make a healthy contribution to your worry diary (Voice Diary). Some people find it helpful to find a room that has soft lighting. While there, do something soothing that is repetitive but not challenging — like knitting or reading. When you feel sleepy, head off to bed. If you’re not worrying but you are physically uncomfortable, you may want to try moving about. Walking or even mild exercise may be able to calm your body.
I hope this information has been helpful and you can soon get a better night’s rest.
Feel free to send me any suggestions of strategies you have successfully used to help get more sleep. You can contact me at this link.
There are many websites devoted to sleep and sleep deprivation. Here are a few to get you started: