December 1, 2000
Snooze, You Win
ver notice how
morning seems to roll around faster these days? With a seemingly
endless stream of responsibilities and entertainment options, we're
trying to squeeze more and more into our days, often at the expense
of our sleep.
By Debra Wood, R.N.
While difficulty sleeping has become an American epidemic, more
women than men report symptoms of insomnia, such as waking up unrefreshed,
experiencing trouble falling asleep, waking often or early and then
not being able to fall back to sleep, according to the National
Sleep Foundation's latest survey. The very things that make us different
from men, our hormones, also diminish the quality of our dozing.
Bloating, cramping, headaches and tender breasts keep us tossing
and turning during monthly periods. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
sufferers don't sleep as deeply, not just cyclically but throughout
the month. Pregnancy offers no respite from sleep disturbances,
nor does menopause. Hot flashes keep women from sound slumber. Menopausal
and postmenopausal women snooze 10 to 30 minutes less per night
than their fertile counterparts. They also wake up more often to
use the bathroom.
If all the hormonal changes were not enough to make you want to
burrow under the blankets, other factors -- including stress, pain,
children, and partner snoring -- rob us more than men of the solid
eight hours slumber we need to feel refreshed, invigorated, and
ready to enjoy life.
What's a gal to do? Let's face it -- we're not going to alter our
hormones, and who'd want to? Personally, I like being a feisty female.
You can never go wrong honing stress-management techniques -- such
as deep breathing or meditation -- but that may not be enough. Thinking
of popping a pill? Twenty-seven percent of women do. But establishing
good sleep habits will provide more long-term benefits.
You can never go wrong honing stress-management techniques
-- such as deep breathing or meditation -- but that may
not be enough. For good sleep over the long haul, Moline
recommends having "a nice, soothing routine to wind down
"Sleeping pills are meant for short-term use," says Margaret Moline,
Ph.D., director of the Sleep-Wake Disorder Center at New York Presbyterian
Hospital. For good sleep over the long haul, Moline recommends having
"a nice, soothing routine to wind down before bedtime."
To catch the requisite number of Zs, sleep professionals recommend
the following techniques:
with a book, calming music, or a soak in a hot tub.
a regular routine, arising and retiring at the same time, seven
days a week.
enough time in bed to obtain a good night's sleep.
reading or watching TV in bed.
your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
regularly, finishing at least three hours before bedtime. Moving
your body helps relieve PMS symptoms and increases slow-wave,
out the cigarettes. Not only will you sleep better, you'll also
cut your risk for lung cancer and other deadly diseases.
up and read if sleep eludes you. Don't just lie there watching
professional treatment when the lack of sleep mars your quality
Scientists still don't know exactly why the body needs sleep, but
it's easy to see the restorative powers of slumber when we don't
get enough. "Without enough sleep, people's [ability to function
during the] daytime can become impaired, and inadvertent sleeping
will occur," Moline says. "It can be dangerous, if you're sleep
deprived and driving. The ability to concentrate decreases." And
the health effects of long-term sleep deprivation can be serious:
Decreased immune function can result, potentially leading to other
I know I'm sleeping more soundly and thinking more clearly since
embracing the tenets of snooze wisdom above. If only my snoring
wasn't keeping my dear husband awake.
Send feedback on this article.
Wood is a registered nurse and health writer living in Orlando, Florida.
Debra calls on more than two decades of nursing experience to effectively
communicate medical topics to lay and professional audiences.