Most sleep-medicine doctors report that their practices are overwhelmingly dominated by women. Reports have shown that almost 3 in 10 women are now using some type of sleep-aide, at least a few times a week. This is a sharp increase from past years. Sleep-aides of choice are things like Ambien or its generic equivalent Zolpidem, Tylenol PM, various prescription anti-anxiety and anti-depressant meds, and the old standard - alcohol. Women report concerns over the possibility of becoming dependent on these meds, which is why many chose to use them sporadically.
The struggle for sleep is not really new to women. Motherhood and menopause are two life phases that have always wreaked havoc on female slumber. We begin to get an idea about what it is like to go many nights with only a few hours of sleep in the late stages of pregnancy. This is probably nature’s way of preparing us for the path ahead; of listening for every little sound our infant makes, and regular feedings throughout the night. But most women report that their ability to sleep never really returns to the pre-baby form. When we are no longer at the mercy of a baby monitor and a hungry infant; why then, are we unable to fully shut down once the rest of the house is deep in slumber?
The changing roles of women are undoubtedly responsible for robbing so many of us of a good night’s rest. Women have certainly come a long way in the last 50 years, but this success has come at a price. And while men too have come a long way in terms of their involvement with their children; for the majority of families, even when both partners are employed full-time, the woman still assumes the primary role of care-taking. This means that now; not only are moms ruminating at night about what to pack the kids for lunch, if all the permissions slips have been signed, and volunteer duties for school have been fulfilled, but they are also experiencing angst about their jobs outside of the home. Women, in general, tend to be the worriers in the family, so now they simply have more to worry about.
This dilemma is complicated by all of the technology that surrounds us. Once home from our busy day we can no longer shut out the outside world so easily. The urge to check the email that one last time before going to bed, just to make sure you didn’t miss the memo about the toy drive at school, or the change in the field trip schedule, looms great.
Many moms, and women in general, tend toward perfectionism and the messages out there tell us to stay on top of, well, everything. This can be quite a burden and can seriously interfere with our ability to shut down the engines at the end of the day. Hence the reason we see so many women turning to sleep-aides, as a way to catch some zzz’s.
Now that we know the facts, what can we do about it?
- The first step in dealing with any problem is recognizing that it exists. So often we get caught up in our daily routine that we fail to question it. It is not normal or healthy to get only 3 or 4 hours of sleep per night. If this has become your norm, then you need to begin to make some changes.
- If sleep-aides have been your go-to method at bed time, then you will be reluctant to let go of that assistance. Try cutting back not just days of use, but dosage as well.
- If you are using a prescription med, always consult with your physician before making any adjustments. Set an evening schedule for yourself once the kids are in bed. It is easy to let the night slip away and end up with a big to-do list at 11pm; don’t let this happen.
- If you find you are getting into bed later than you would like, try moving your bedtime up at least an hour. Make sure to shut off all computers, PDA's, and iPad's. Not only is the information stimulating, but the light from these devices interferes with sleep.
- Let the hour before you actually get into bed be the wind down time; instead of expecting your body to switch gears quickly, simply because you are lying down.
- Meditation, or warm baths, are just a couple of good techniques to use to distress.
- Lastly, have a good-night list by your bed where you can write down all those last minute thoughts that are swirling around in your head. Let the list hang on to those items for the duration of the night, and remind yourself that you can return to them when you awake in the morning.
If you truly struggle with sleep on a regular basis don’t take the matter into your own hands. The lack of sleep can be debilitating; and over a prolonged period in and of itself, is a health risk. Talk to your physician, a sleep specialist, or a therapist and get the help you need to have a peaceful night’s rest.