Hey there, droopy eyes. Are you getting enough sleep? In these tough times, when the news just seems to be getting worse and worse, sleep can be elusive for many of us. Even when things are good, women don’t get enough sleep: studies have shown that when pressed for time, they compromise on diet, exercise, and sleep. “Foregoing healthy lifestyle habits in favor of more time during the day is not the solution,” says Dr. Kathryn Lee, Professor of Family Health Care and Nursing at the University of California in San Francisco, in a 2007 National Sleep Foundation Survey. “In fact, it can be detrimental to optimum health and performance.”
Remember when your babies were born and you dragged yourself through the day on a few interrupted hours of sleep? You managed because you knew (and hoped) it would be short-lived and anyway, you had no choice. Now your kids are older, and maybe it’s your job, hobby, responsibilities, and schedule that are keeping you up at night. For many women, getting enough z’s ends up being a problem that plagues them long after their kids are soundly sleeping through the night.
So, how much sleep do we all need? According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke, the amount of sleep women need varies depending on many factors, including age: “Getting too little sleep creates a ‘sleep debt,’ which is much like being overdrawn at the bank. Eventually, your body will demand that the debt be repaid.” As we age, and our responsibilities and worries grow, we crave sleep even more, yet we’re still not getting enough.
A 2007 poll by the National Sleep Foundation said that 60 percent of American women reported that they only get a “good night’s sleep” a few nights a week. Whether you’re a mother working outside the home or staying at home, the poll shows that your sleep problems are pretty similar. Even though almost two-thirds of stay-at-home mothers said they spend more than eight hours a night in bed, almost 75 percent of them said they suffer from symptoms of insomnia two to three nights each week.
That’s a significant majority! And although full-time working mothers generally get less than six hours a night in bed, they report similar difficulties as the stay-at-home mothers concerning sleeping through the night and feeling refreshed.
Now get this: part-time working moms get the best sleep of all; a full 50 percent say they’re in bed eight or more hours a night and most of them report getting uninterrupted, refreshing sleep. So what’s their secret? Could it be that the right combination of work and time at home leads those part-timers to place themselves higher on their list of priorities?
That’s a choice: you can do it too!
But what if you get to bed when you need to, only to discover you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep? Before reaching for those sleep medications, try a few of these simple solutions:
- Use earplugs, available at any pharmacy, and a silky eye mask. Dim all lights, shut the blinds, and turn off any electronic devices that hum or blink.
- Try not to engage in any vigorous activity, like working out, right before bedtime. What makes you calm before you sleep? Watching television in bed? Reading?
- Play a CD of gentle, instrumental music, or nature sounds, like running water.
- Experiment with your caffeine tolerance. Could you be drinking caffeine too late in the day? Remember, it’s often a hidden ingredient in things like sodas, teas, and chocolate.
- Trade favors with your husband or your kids, and sleep in late one weekend day; that will go toward repaying your sleep debt. But keep in mind that experts also say that if you try to go to bed and get up at around the same time every day, you have a better chance of falling asleep easily.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night, give in to the urge to get up. Get yourself something warm to drink—without caffeine—and then sit down for ten minutes and write a list of what’s on your mind. You may find that writing things down helps stop them from racing around in your head.