Today on the blog – in conjunction with Touro Infirmary – we are absolutely thrilled to be opening a dialog about sleep through our “Rest Assured: You Are Not Alone” series. As moms we are all often sleep deprived, and we struggle with making decisions around our children’s sleep habits as well. Should we use a crib or a bassinet? Is co-sleeping safe or not? Should we sleep train? And who IS the expert on sleep training anyway? Will the baby ever sleep more than 2 hours at a time? Why does my toddler have night terrors? When do I move the toddler to a “big kid” bed and oh my word why won’t they stay in the darn thing? Our goal through this series is to create a safe place for all of us to open up about the sleep issues that trouble us and to acknowledge that no matter our struggles or choices, we are never ever alone.
The Importance of Healthy Sleep
Busy parents – in particular the mothers – can easily become overwhelmed by exhaustion. For moms with young babies, a solid 8 hours may not happen again for several months, but for all women (and men), prioritizing better sleep is as important to overall health as diet and exercise. Inforgraphic courtesy National Institute of Health.
Sleep allows our bodies to rest and be ready for a productive day ahead. Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to function well the next day. However, a poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that the average woman aged 30-60 sleeps only six hours and forty-one minutes during the workweek. Another Sleep in America poll revealed that women are more likely than men to have difficulty falling and staying asleep and to experience more daytime sleepiness at least a few nights/days a week.
Research has shown that too little sleep results in daytime sleepiness, increased accidents, problems concentrating, poor performance on the job and in school, and possibly, increased sickness and weight gain. The quality of your sleep is also equally as important as amount of sleep. Adults who habitually sleep less than 7 to 8 hours have an increased risk of developing obesity, diabetes, heart and blood vessel disease, stroke, and mood disorders.
Insomnia is the most common sleep problem, which is simply defined as the inability to sleep. Most of us have experienced this temporarily “sleeplessness” at one time or another. In fact 63% of women report experiencing insomnia at least a few nights a week. There are a number of effective approaches to improve sleep, including exercise, establishing regular bed/wake times, dietary changes and modifying sleep environment. If problems still persist, speak with your doctor about medications or other underlying causes such as stress or depression.
Other sleep problems among women may include narcolepsy, pain and sleep, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, and night/shift work related sleep pattern problems. If you have concerns about insomnia or other sleep problems, get help (and relief) by speaking with your physician.
Best sleep practices:
- Ban blue-light in the bedroom
- Do not “watch the clock”
- Make the bedroom a place for rest and relaxation (the bedroom should be reserved for sleep and sex. Don’t balance the checkbook, talk on the phone, or watch TV)
- The best sleep temperature for most people is between 68-72 degrees
- Create an optimal sleep environment by eliminating dust and allergens, sleeping in clean bedding and selecting the right pillow for proper neck support
- Stick to a routine – going to sleep and waking up at the same time every days help your body develop a healthy sleep-wake cycle
- Limit caffeine intake (don’t consume any after Noon)
- Stop eating at least 2-3 hours before bedtime
- Regular exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality, but try not to exercise too late in the evening
- Limit alcoholic beverages: while alcohol may make you feel sleepy initially, it actually causes more restless sleep and more frequent waking during the night
- Establish a “winding down” period in the evenings before bedtime. Read something calm, meditate, listen to music, or take a warm bath. Try making a list of any worries, along with a plan to deal with them, to bring closure to your day
- Exercise caution with sleeping pills as some can be habit forming, and are usually a temporary solution to more long term changes in behavior
Meredith Maxwell, M.D.
Meredith Maxwell, M.D. is a Family Medicine physician with Touro’s Crescent City Physicians, Inc. Dr. Maxwell earned her medical degree from St. Matthew’s University and the University of South Alabama, Mobile where she also completed her residency. She is board certified in Family Medicine. Office 504-897-7007 / 3434 Prytania St. Suite 110