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So Much to Do, So Little Sleep

SUNDAY June 22, 2008 -- Most women don't need a survey to tell them a basic fact of female life: They're often sleep-deprived and feel too sluggish to make it through the day with vigor.

Whether they're single career women, newlyweds, new moms, single moms, empty-nesters or grandmothers, many -- if not most -- women acknowledge that they just don't get enough shut-eye.

In fact, a National Sleep Foundation survey found that 60 percent of the women polled said they only get a good night's sleep a few nights a week -- or less. And 43 percent said daytime sleepiness interferes with their daily activities.

But don't abandon hope, say two experts on women and sleep -- there are steps you can take to get back on a well-rested track.

For starters, women have to be convinced that lack of sleep is harmful, not a badge of honor. Acknowledging those harmful effects to your health can help you "respect your sleep."

"Studies now are showing that if you are sleep-deprived, you have a tendency to gain weight," said Donna Arand, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Kettering Medical Center in Kettering, Ohio, and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Sleeping less than seven hours a night is associated with a higher body mass index (a ratio of weight to height) and a higher likelihood of obesity, according to a study of more than 25,000 people published in the journal Sleep.

Other researchers looked at the results of 23 studies and found that 17 of them supported an inescapable link between insufficient sleep and increased weight. The findings were published online Jan. 17 in the journal Obesity.

But the health risks aren't limited to weight gain.

Cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure have been linked to lack of sleep, Arand said. And the National Sleep Foundation says too little sleep can lead to an increased risk of diabetes, psychiatric problems such as depression and substance abuse, and a greater risk of motor-vehicle accidents.

The foundation also says insufficient sleep can hinder attentiveness and make it tougher to remember new information.

In fact, performance can be impaired after just four nights of five hours' sleep or less, researchers reported online Feb. 12 in the journal Sleep Medicine.

So now that you know why sleep is so important, here's some advice on how to get a good night's rest.

First, figure out why you're not sleeping well and then take steps to fix the problem, said Joyce Walsleben, associate professor at the New York University Sleep Disorders Center and a spokeswoman for the National Sleep Foundation.

In women, the physical causes of sleep problems are often hormonal, she said. So it's important to take care of the problem -- be it menstrual cramps, hot flashes, or other symptoms.

But psychological forces can also play a role. Worry is a big reason why many women don't sleep well. "Women tend to want to solve problems, and they tend to ruminate," Walsleben said.

To sleep well, you have to turn off the worry, Walsleben said. One worry-buster that she endorses is mindfulness meditation, an easy-to-learn technique. "Breaking that worry habit is important," she said.

Another tool recommended by Walsleben -- writing in a "worry book." Every night, set aside about 15 minutes to jot down your concerns. Use one side of a piece of paper to list everything that worries you. On the other side, write a solution.

Both Arand and Walsleben endorse "sleep hygiene habits." According to the National Sleep Foundation, they should include:

  • Exercising regularly. It's best to complete a workout at least a few hours before bedtime, however.
  • Finishing eating at least two to three hours before bedtime.
  • Avoiding caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime.
  • Maintaining a regular bed and wake time schedule, including weekends.
  • Creating a sleep-conducive environment that's dark, quiet, comfortable and cool.
  • Sleeping on a comfortable mattress and pillow.

More information

For more on getting a good night's sleep, visit the National Sleep Foundation.

Posted: June 2008


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