Women’s Stress Women’s History Month Week 3: Women and Sleep Issues
Did you know that the National Sleep Awareness Day is always celebrated in March every year? I don’t think it is coincidental that it occurs during International Women’s Month either. Insomnia is more frequent in women than in men and refers to the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep during a specific period. Women tend to have more sleep issues during menstrual cycles, menopause as well as in their third trimester of a pregnancy. Sleep apnea can present very differently in women than in men and can be delayed in diagnosing due to atypical presentation of insomnia instead of sleepiness during the day.
As women age their hormones will shift and the relationship between sleep and hormones is very complex and different for each woman. Not only will the amount of sleep change as we age, but the quality can too. During menopause the two things that women need to be more aware of is insomnia and sleep apnea. Make sure you are aware of your sleep habits. Do you snore, have you started snoring? Do you have restless legs? Do you have REM behavior disorder? Do you find it hard to stay awake during the day? Do you wake gasping at night? All of these are serious symptoms and should be presented to your doctor. Sleep apnea can increase your risk of stroke and heart attack. Reach out to your doctor if any of these symptoms are present.
Good, quality sleep can help you achieve better health; mind, body and soul. The key is to make sleep a priority in your life. Not getting enough sleep can lead to some series health issues. It not only affects our physical health, but also contributes to our anxiety and stress.
Sometimes this is a vicious cycle since anxiety leads to disrupted sleep. It is important to slow your body and brain down before going to bed every night. During the night, your body rests and recharges for the next day. Adequate sleep will reduce stress and help you lose weight. Seven to nine hours is the recommended amount; however, studies show that 35% of Americans do not get enough quality sleep and some of them are clocking in less than six hours per night. According to the CDC fewer than 2/3 of women actually get seven to nine hours of sleep and women are 40% more likely to suffer from insomnia than men.
Sleep deprivation can add up and the longer we go functioning on five hours of sleep, the harder it is to catch up and get your body back in rhythm. Research on chronic sleep deprivation is scary, in fact, the longer we go without getting enough sleep, the harder it is to realize we’re even tired. The best way to curb this is to be preventative with our sleep habits.
Currently, 49% of Americans blame stress for losing sleep. You can create a great stress management “tool-kit” to use during your day to curb your response to stress as well as create a bedtime routine that will help you get a more sounder night’s rest.
Stress and anxiety keep your brain racing so if you find it hard to shut it down at night, chances are good you are suffering from anxiety. Having a racing brain at night means you have a racing brain during the day. Do you feel like you need to go, go, go and everything has to get done and be done perfectly? Do you find yourself thinking of things from the past or worrying about things in the future? Do you find yourself more frustrated, angry, curt or tense if things don’t go as planned or as “easily” as you think they should?
Welcome to the world of anxiety. I have suffered from anxiety since I was 10 years old and it is so ironic that I chose the path of a Stress Management Health coach in my 40’s to help others master their anxiety. The problem with not dealing with your anxiety during the day is that it hinders your body’s ability to re-boot your memory, muscle repair and mood when you sleep.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system will be compromised and you may find yourself feeling more moody, sad or depressed and could find yourself catching more than one cold or other illnesses.
When you are sleeping the body repairs itself, heals areas that need to be healed and lets the brain rest so that when you wake up in the morning you are refreshed and ready for your day. However, if you toss and turn at night and your brain races with thoughts of things you need to do, didn’t get to do or should have done, you are not getting enough sleep.
Not enough sleep can affect judgment, productivity and the ability to remember information the next day. Over time, this can also contribute to obesity, diabetes and in case you didn’t realize it a chronic cranky attitude.
So how can we create a better sleep regime so we can get more quality sleep in our lives?
Here are a few tips to start with:
Tip #1: Establish a bedtime routine
By going to sleep the same time every night you will let your body know that it is time to slow down and it lets the brain know that it is time to tune out and turn off. Create a schedule and stick to it every weeknight and even on the weekends of possible.
Tip # 2: Journal
This could be part of your routine, before going to sleep, grab a journal or a notebook and write down things that happened during your day. Write down the things you didn’t get to do and things you need to remember to do tomorrow. Take a moment and include one to three things that you are grateful for and one accomplishment. When you take time to clear your mind, you can lessen your restless brain and be able to get a more sound sleep. The positive thoughts are then in your subconscious and not the negative energy of the day.
Tip #3: Eat some magnesium
Research suggests magnesium plays a key role in our ability to sleep through the night. Before going to sleep, snack on magnesium-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, spinach or swiss chard. I actually take a magnesium supplement about half an hour before bedtime.
Tip #4: Try a cup of chamomile tea
This tea has a mild sedative effect and has been a favorite for insomniacs for its ability to relieve insomnia and encourage a good night’s sleep, without nightmares. This tea can also help ease anxiety and depression, which lead to insomnia.
Tip #5: Exercise regularly
Regular exercise can reduce anxiety and greatly improve quality of sleep in people who suffer from insomnia. Sometimes the more aerobic the better so that you can burn off all that adrenaline that you worked up with your daily stress. Some people resonate better with yoga or Pilates. I even have a friend who does his T’ai Chi before he goes to bed at night and he says he sleeps like a log. Find something that works for you and do it often.
Move your body at least 30 minutes every day in some way. You will see your anxiety and racing brain slowly diminish or become more manageable. Light yoga stretches before bedtime are also great to add to your bedtime routine.
So how can we create a better sleep regime so we can get more quality sleep in our lives? Here are 10 great tips to help you shift your sleep patterns and finally get some solid zzz’s every night.
Tip #1. Cool down the bedroom
Studies have shown that by keeping the air in your bedroom between 60-75 degrees you will not only wake less but spend less time tossing and turning. Too much clothing can make you too warm and cause you to wake up and toss and turn to try and get your foot out of the covers to regulate your temperature. By wearing less clothing you won’t run the risk of waking yourself up to cool down during the night. Change your sheets to cooler bamboo or high quality cooling sheets to help keep your temperature regulated.
Tip #2. Take a hot shower or bath before bed
The rise and fall of your body temperature can make you very sleepy and ready for bed. The best way to do this is to take a hot shower or warm bath right before you go to sleep. Add in some essential oils to help your mind and body relax too, lavender is a good one for inducing relaxation and sleep.
Tip #3. Keep a daily wakeup time
If you have a set bedtime routine, it is also good to have a set wakeup time, ideally even on the weekends. If you vary it from night to night your body can’t adjust well enough and this can lead to poor sleep patterns. Try a consistent pattern for a week and see what happens.
Tip #4. Repay for lost sleep
If you find that you stayed up too late for a few nights due to obligations, work or just plain fun, tack on an extra hour tonight to help repay your sleep debt. By doing this each night you will get back on track and see a more consistent night’s sleep. Of course, you have to then remind yourself to go to bed an hour earlier.
Tip #5. Limit caffeine to before 2pm
Thinking you need that mid-afternoon latte could be causing your sleep pattern to be disrupted. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 6 hours after consumption. Your body doesn’t have enough time in the afternoon to burn it off before you lay your head down at night. This could rev your brain up so it has a really hard time slowing down to be ready for rest. Instead, take a brisk walk around the block, eat some protein for that natural boost or did you know that an apple can give you that same caffeine-like boost, but without the jittery effect? Try it next time you think you need a coffee or an energy drink to keep you going.
Tip #6. Don’t fight the “toss and turn”
If you can’t fall asleep or you have been lying there after waking up in the middle of the night for more than 20 minutes get out of bed and do a relaxing activity. You can grab a book and read or listen to some relaxing music to help you. You can also write down all the thoughts you have funneling through your head. Get them on paper and out of your brain so your brain can slow down and go to sleep. You can also take an herbal tincture to help. I recommend one that has Valerian root and skullcap. Valerian will help you fall asleep and Skullcap stops your brain from racing.
Tip #7. Check the medicine that you are taking
Some medications can interfere with your sleep. Check out the prescriptions you are taking and ask your doctor if your medicine could be keeping you up at night. It could be a simple fix of the dosage or the time of day that you can take it. Check with them first before making any decisions. Ask if there are more homeopathic solutions you could use like adaptogens or a hemp CBD oil instead of an over the counter prescription.
Tip #8. Buy a comfy bed for your pets
You love your pets, but they can seriously interfere with your quality of sleep. Instead of having them sleep with you, have a cuddle session with them before you go to sleep and then tuck them into their own bed for the night.
Tip #9. Turn your alarm clock around
The light from your clock could be distracting your eye movements while you sleep and can cause stress if it keeps waking you up at night. Flip it light side down so it doesn’t wake you in the night. The artificial light can also mess up your circadian rhythm and can make your body think it is time to get up.
Tip #10. Track your sleep patterns
There are a variety of apps that you can use to track your sleep patterns to see what may be helping or hurting your sleep. There are also apps that are designed to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Check them out and research which one may be right for you.
Top 5 Sleep Tracking Apps
Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock (Android, iOS)
Fitbit (iOS, Android, Windows)
Sleep Genius (Android, iOS)
Pillow (iOS, Apple Watch)
Sleep as Android (Android, Android Wear OS)
Disclaimer: While factors like stress or big life changes can bring on a few sleepless nights, prolonged trouble sleeping could be a sign of another issue like depression or a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. If these are worries, schedule a doctor’s visit to get things checked out. A medical professional might suggest a hormone test or another kind of evaluation to make sure everything’s okay.
Manage Your Stress for Sounder Sleep
You can create a great stress management “tool-kit” to use during your day to curb your response to stress as well as create a bedtime routine that will help you get a more sounder night’s rest.
Stress and anxiety keep your brain racing so if you find it hard to shut it down at night, chances are good you are suffering from anxiety. Having a racing brain at night usually means you have a racing brain during the day.
That feeling of having to go, go, go and everything has to get done and be done perfectly is a sign of anxiety. Worrying about things that may or may not happen in the future are signs of anxiety too. Becoming frustrated when things don’t go as planned or as “easily” as you think they should is also a sign of anxiety.
The problem with not dealing with your anxiety during the day is that it hinders your body’s ability to re-boot your memory, muscle repair and mood when you sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system will be compromised and you may find yourself feeling more moody, sad or depressed and could find yourself catching more colds, viruses or other illnesses.
During sleep the body repairs itself, heals areas that need to be healed and lets the brain rest so that when you wake up in the morning you are refreshed and ready for your day. However, if you toss and turn at night and your brain races with thoughts of things you need to do, didn’t get to do or should have done, you are not getting enough quality sleep.
Low quality sleep can affect your judgment, productivity and the ability to remember key information for your job or family. Over time low quality of sleep can contribute to obesity, diabetes and a chronic cranky attitude.
Here are a few more tips you can use to create a better sleep regime so we can get more quality sleep in our lives.
Tip #1. Listen to soothing music
Music is an amazing way to help increase your quality of sleep as well as how long you can sleep. Calm, soothing music is best to help slow your brain synapses down to prepare your brain and body for sleep. You can also listen to soothing mantras or chanting that help stimulate a deeper part of your brain for sleep. YouTube has some amazing recorded types of music to help your brain slow down and allow your body to calm down and go to sleep.
Look for Delta waves before you go to sleep and Theta waves while you are working during the day to reduce stress and anxiety and boost immunity.
Tip #2. Using lavender
Lavender has been used for decades to help calm your mind and lull you into a sleep. You can spray some lavender essential oil on your pillow, rub it on a cotton ball and put it in your pillow case, light a lavender candle in your room, but remember to blow it out before you close your eyes of course. You can take a bath with lavender essential oils and then rub lavender lotion on your legs and feet for a total relaxation effect before you lie down in bed for the night.
Tip #3. Progressive muscle relaxation
This is an easy exercise to do while lying in bed and your mind is wondering. Start with your feet - tense up all the muscles and hold for a count of five and then relax. Move up the body and tense up the muscles in your legs, stomach, hands, arms, chest and shoulders. Include your deep breathing and by the time you reach your head you should see yourself relaxing. If you have had a particularly hard day go through this process another time, or even two or three until you feel calm and relaxed to fall asleep.
Tip #4. Dim the lights
I need a very, very dark room in order to get a good, solid night’s rest. I highly recommend getting dark light blocking curtains to help block out any light from your neighborhood. Do not bring your phone, computer, Ipad or any electronic that has that “blue” light you’re your room at night. In fact, stop all technology an hour before you go to sleep. The blue light tricks your brain into thinking it is still daylight and keeps your mind awake.
This light can cause serious sleep patterns that don’t allow your brain to fully turn off. They are too stimulating and should be turned off at least one hour before going to bed. I have also worn a mask to help block out light too. They are comfy and really do work.
Tip #5. Don’t forget the fresh air
Each day make time to get outside and in nature. Whether that is by taking a walk around the block on your lunch break or eating your dinner on your patio or deck. The more you can get outside, the more you will regulate your body’s internal clock which can help with your sleep timing. This will also lessen the amount of daytime fatigue you can suffer, creating a more productive workday. When that happens, your body and brain are prepped for bedtime and much sleepier which can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Tip #6. Create and stick to an “electronic curfew”
All artificial light from your TV, phone, computer or Ipad can make it extremely difficult for your brain to shut down. That light makes your brain buzz with activity, making it think it is time to do something, plan something, stay awake and not go to sleep. So, make it a rule that one hour before you go to bed, you turn off all electronics. Go through your bedtime routine and if you have time left, grab an actual book or magazine article to read. Your brain will be able to slow down and reset easier with an actual book instead of the computer version. Reading a book is a known stress reducer, doing it before going to sleep can also help you fall asleep faster. By distracting your brain with someone else’s story it can help shift your thoughts from your own worries. The story can give your mind the option to go somewhere else for a little while. You can leave your troubles behind and as you read you will see your breathing slow down, your muscles relax and you feel calmer and at ease making it easier to fall asleep. Your brain is a muscle too and just like the rest of your body it needs to work-out to stay healthy. Reading boosts your brainpower and is more neurologically challenging than processing images and less taxing on your eyes and brain. Reading also boosts your creative juices allowing you to see things from different perspectives which broadens your mind.
Tip #7. Drink something warm
There is a certain level of relaxation that comes when sipping on a mug of warm milk, hot cocoa or chamomile tea. Your stomach fills and your eyes can become heavy making it easier to fall asleep. My new favorite is Golden Milk. The one I use is a combination of coconut milk powder, organic turmeric powder, organic coconut sugar, Aquamin and organic extra virgin coconut oil. I use it on those days where my body is sore and I really want to calm my muscles before going to sleep.
Tip #8: Weighted blanket
I use a down comforter on my bed in summer and winter as it feels comfy and gives my body a nice hug. If I have had a stressful day and feel restless before I go to sleep, I also use a weighted blanket to help give my central nervous system a deep hug. It helps me go to sleep and stay asleep longer.
Tip #9: Stretches
There are some great stretches you can do before going to bed to help you get a better quality of sleep.
Before hitting the hay, hit the floor for some simple, soothing stretches that will improve circulation and ease muscle tension - allowing for a solid night’s slumber. If you have a hard time going to sleep and staying asleep you may benefit from some of these great stretches before bedtime.
I think we have all felt the tension and tightness in our muscles after a good workout, but there are many who feel that same tightness and tension after a long day at work without doing any exercise at all. When you have a great workout you will always need to give your muscles adequate time to rest and recover. The same thing is true if you have had a rough day at work and your muscles are more tense then relaxed. If you don’t make it a habit or part of your daily/weekly routine you will not reap the benefits of relaxed muscles. When you relax your muscles you will help strengthen your body, relieve stress and allow your mind to relax decreasing stress in your mind and your body.
When you workout you create microscopic tears in your muscles that you are working, this causes the muscle tension you feel after or during the workout. These little tears will heal stronger than they were before, if you give your muscles the appropriate amount of time to recover. Recovery means adding slow, gentle movement to the muscles which will keep the blood circulating through the muscles. Recovery doesn’t mean sitting on the couch and surfing shows. Deep rest is needed for muscle recovery and that can be accomplished with slow stretching, quality sleep and meditation.
If you are not doing hard workouts, but your back or body has a lot of tension, tightness or pain, deep sleep can become an issue. If this sounds like you, it is time to look at your actual stress levels. Muscle tension in your upper back, shoulders or lower back can be caused by unconsciously tensing up these muscles through the day. You may not even know you are doing it, but if it is consistent you will create some serious muscle imbalances which is why it is important to learn how to release the tension and deal with your stress in a different manner.
Emotional stress can be the biggest culprit in creating chronic tension, tightness and muscle imbalances in the body. When you hold your emotions in and not express them you are creating tension in every cell in your body. Environmental stresses like artificial ingredients in processed foods, sugar and caffeine can delay proper muscle functioning and this can quickly build up in all areas of your body.
Here are some relaxation tips that you can use every night before you go to bed to help you gain more quality sleep, as well as allow your body to recover after a long day:
Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana)
Up The Wall (Viparita Karani)
Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)
Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Tip #10 Calm Music/Delta Waves
Grab your headphones, close your eyes and listen to the specific beats created by this compilation and your brain will create a meditative state.
Here is a link to OmHarmonics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46DuYDhTkZM or
another for Delta Waves to help you sleep: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQ6xgDI7Whc
Try these tips and see if they help you gain more quality sleep. Try a couple each week until you find the right combination for you. Some weeks I use the tea and a bath, others I read and stretch. Tune into your body and mind and see what will truly help you in that moment to relax and get a deeper night’s rest.