2009-05-27 / Health

Sleep Tight for Better Health Women's Health

ACOG President Gerald F. Joseph, Jr, MD

Sleep—along with a nutritious diet and regular exercise—is essential to a woman's overall wellbeing. Sleep is restorative therapy for your body. It is the time when, your body repairs and regenerates tissue, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens its immunity.

The average adult should aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. But according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), 20% of people in the US get less than six hours of sleep on a regular basis, putting them at risk for short-term problems, such as fatiguerelated accidents on the road and at home, and long-term conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Lack of sleep can also make it harder to perform daily tasks, and can cause irritability, moodiness, and memory problems.

Because we typically sleep lighter and for shorter periods of time as we age, many of us find it hard to get enough quality sleep. Insomnia, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, is also more common in older people, especially in women. An NSF survey found that 61% of menopausal women report trouble sleeping. Causes of insomnia can include hot flashes and night sweats related to menopause; sleep apnea, a condition that disrupts sleep by causing breathing to stop briefly, up to hundreds of times during the night; restless leg syndrome, a nerve disorder that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them; depression and anxiety; and various sources of pain such as migraine, heartburn, and arthritis.

Fortunately, simple lifestyle changes can drastically improve your chances of getting a good night's sleep. You may want to try some the following tips:

-Avoid alcohol, caffeine, large meals, and exercising in the evening. (But continue to exercise earlier in the day— it has been shown to promote better sleep.)

-Try to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning, even on the weekends.

-Use the bedroom only for sleep or sex. Keep the TV, computer, and work materials out.

-Create a cool, quiet, dark, and comfortable sleep environment.

-Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Take a hot bath, read, or listen to music.

-If you can't fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy. Resist the urge to keep checking the clock.

If you still find yourself unable to get to sleep for several nights a week over the course of a month, see your doctor to rule out medical conditions that could be a problem. Your doctor may prescribe a sleep aid. Relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation may also help. For more information, visit the NSF website at www.sleepfoundation.org.

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