Tired women, listen up. Multitasking and poor sleep habits are your enemy. If you want better sleep, you might have to make some (admittedly difficult) lifestyle changes.
There are reasons you may not be getting enough high-quality sleep—like hormones, pregnancy and newborns—that you can’t do much about. But getting more Zs may be within reach just by managing some of your daytime activities.
“Women are likely to be affected because they’re working and also multitasking at home, thus compromising on their sleep time and quality,” said Dr. Suhaib Haq, who is a family practice physician at University Medicine Associates and board certified in sleep medicine. “They have so many things on their mind that they really don’t clear off their brain before going to bed, and it’s still in their subconscious.
“Or they’re a stay-at-home mom and didn’t wake up until 9 a.m. but they had to get up when the baby was crying at 1 a.m. and they probably also woke up at 6 a.m. to send kids to school. So they aren’t getting good quality sleep.”
What can I do to get better sleep? 5 tips for better sleep
Good sleep hygiene—that is, your sleep-related habits—is crucial for getting enough high-quality sleep at night. And cleaning up your sleep hygiene is typically within your control. Here are a few smart practices you can use to promote quality sleep:
Routine: Haq’s No.1 recommendation for more quality sleep is sticking to a fixed bedtime and wake-up schedule, even on weekends. “You can have flexibility of maybe an hour on the weekend, but you shouldn’t be completely off cycle,” he says and adds that your wake-up time is even more important than your bedtime. If you wake up on time, even if you went to bed late, your body will get you back on schedule more quickly.
Avoid stimulants: Once you’re on a good sleep schedule, avoid caffeine and other medications that may decrease your sleep drive. Haq recommends no caffeine after 5 p.m. You can also try relaxation exercises to quiet your brain.
Scrutinize your daytime activities: Exercising shortly before bedtime or taking long daytime naps are both bad ideas. Haq recommends exercising at least two or three hours before bed, but even earlier in the day is preferred.
Reduce light exposure: “Bright light exposure in the evening hours pushes sleep away,” Haq says. “When you’re staring at a computer screen, tablet, phone or TV, the light goes to the brain and tells you it’s daytime.” He recommends starting to dim lights around 7 to 8 p.m., as the day starts to wind down. If you must use your devices before bed, use a blue light filter, which is a standard feature on most smartphones.
Prepare the setting: Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and on the cool side. Your core body temperature must decrease for sleep.
Can medical conditions cause insomnia?
Other factors that contribute to poor sleep may not be something you can handle on your own. Dealing with issues such as depression, anxiety or menopause may require a doctor’s help. A prescription could help control symptoms that disrupt your sleep.
Medical conditions such as thyroid problems, acid reflux, chronic pain or heart failure — among others —also can cause poor sleep. “Sleep restores body function, and when these systems are broken, it’s unrestful sleep,” Haq says.
Pregnant and post-partum women, unfortunately, must simply wait until they’re not waking up every hour to go to the bathroom or attending to a hungry newborn. Still, maintain good sleep hygiene as best you can, and when the baby starts sleeping through the night, you can also get back on track.
When to see a doctor: Should I take melatonin?
If you’re considering taking over-the-counter medications or supplements to help you sleep, make sure you do so under a doctor’s care.
Melatonin, for example, is a naturally occurring hormone that the brain secrets in the evening. However, there’s the potential that a melatonin supplement could interfere with other medications. Other OTC sleep medications could leave you groggy the next day, which can affect your ability to drive.
Women metabolize medication differently than men, so your doctor can give advice about the best course of treatment.
If nothing is helping and you’re feeling excessively sleepy during the day, it might be time to schedule a sleep study.
Sleep apnea is a common cause of poor sleep. Although men are usually more often affected by sleep apnea, after menopause, women are about equally affected. Besides daytime sleepiness, other factors that could point to obstructive sleep apnea include a history of snoring, obesity, or a neck size of 14 inches or greater in women, 16 inches in men.
“Sleep deprivation is often ignored because it develops slowly, and people try to find ways to compensate,” Haq says. “Poor sleep can lead to many chronic diseases. By the time we begin to treat poor sleep, we wish we had done something five or 10 years ago so they could have enjoyed their life more.”
You can schedule an appointment with the University Health System Sleep Lab by calling 210-358-8587 or visiting the website at https://www.universityhealthsystem.com/services/sleep-lab.