7 Solutions for a Better Night's Sleep
Are You Missing Out On Sleep?
I'm a married woman, but there's a guy I've been chasing after for months: the Sandman. I want him desperately some nights — and then other evenings I push him away. It's completely my fault that he's turned his back on me in bed. Our always-too-short encounters are rarely satisfying because I'm constantly thinking about an errand I forgot to run or a form I need to fill out for my son's school. (Even Overstock.com and Candy Crush Saga come between us.) Yes, in terms of sleep time, I could — and should — do better.
And I'm not alone. More than 91 million women don't get the recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye each night. Those missed zzz's can pack on pounds, steal your good looks, and make you just plain grouchy. That's why Family Circle went to its Facebook page in search of readers so heavy-eyed that they agreed to let sleep experts take a peek into their bedrooms to see what's really robbing them of 40 winks. Here they share what all moms should (and shouldn't) be doing for sounder sleep.
Sleep Stealer #1: You Don't Listen to Your Body
Karen Malley never knows what to expect when she calls it a night. "I'm woken up either by hip pain, a backache, or hot flashes," says the 49-year-old mom of three in Souderton, Pennsylvania. Chronic pain disrupts the slumber of an estimated 42 million Americans. Ironically, a recent study suggests that getting more sleep than usual may help curb sensitivity to pain. Adding to the tossing and turning, insomnia, hot flashes, and other sleep problems go hand in hand for 61% of menopausal women.
Sleep Salvation: Respond to Your Body's Calls for Help
For hot flashes, place a cloth-covered chilled ice pack under your pillow. "When you wake up sweating, flip the pillow over and find the cool spot," says Tracey Marks, MD, author of Master Your Sleep: Proven Methods Simplified. Lying next to the pack will also lower your body temperature, and moisture-wicking sleepwear and sheets can help keep you dry (drinights.com, from $55 and $100, respectively). Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, which may make you sweat more, especially close to lights-out. Note: Spicy or acidic foods fire up sweat glands as well.
Deep abdominal breathing may reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flashes or pain. With one hand on your belly and the other on your chest, slowly inhale through your nose and hold while counting to seven. Next, exhale through your mouth while counting to eight. Repeat for five deep breaths. Malley tried a variation suggested by Ana Krieger, MD, medical director of the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine at New York–Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. "Once I'm under the covers, I lay my hand on my stomach to feel my breathing, start at 50 and count backward," she says. "It actually distracts me from my hip pain. And I never remember counting below 30."
Sleep Stealer #2: You're Hijacking Your Internal Clock
By the time Friday night rolls around, Kathie Gibson is spent. "I never get a solid night's rest, so I make up for it on the weekends," says the 52-year-old resident of Clearwater, Florida. Her youngest is a high school freshman, and they're both adjusting to her new academic schedule. Trying to catch up on missed zzz's on the weekend and napping are tempting. But not only is there no way to truly make up a rest deficit, doing so throws off your body's sleep-wake cycle.
Sleep Salvation: Stick to a Schedule
Instead of sleeping in, get up within an hour of your usual wake-up time on the weekend and go to bed a few minutes earlier during the week, says Dr. Krieger. Sleeping late creates a jet-lag effect that makes it harder to drift off the following night. An early rise isn't easy but can have its benefits: "I got up at 6 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday," says Gibson. "I did chores that I would have pushed off to the evening, and I'm now sleeping through the night."
Tracking the details of your sleep patterns for a week or two — hours slept, awakenings, bedtime rituals — can also help pinpoint saboteurs like late-night exercise, a stressful workday, and caffeine or alcohol consumption. Download a free log at: markspsychiatry.com/sleepcharts.
Sleep Stealer #3: You Don't Prep for Bed
After a full day of work and an evening of kid activities, Kristina Boyle, 43, doesn't have enough energy to correctly spell "t-h-e" on Words with Friends. "When the children go down for the night, so do I," says the Huntington, New York, mother of three. Although she nods off quickly, Boyle wakes up frequently in the middle of the night and manages five or six hours — at most.
Sleep Salvation: Find a Wind-Down Ritual
"When you don't take time to relax, your mind can remain in a mild state of alertness, making you prone to nighttime awakenings," says Michael Breus, PhD, author of Good Night: The Sleep Doctor's Four-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health. Boyle found she rested more soundly by using MindValley's deep relaxation app (iTunes, free) before bed. "It totally shuts down my brain," she says. Using a computer app right before catching zzz's isn't ideal since light can stimulate your brain, so be sure to turn off the device immediately after you're finished. You could also try meditation, basic stretches, reading (but not on an electronic device), or sex if your hubby's awake (the endorphins released during orgasm have a calming effect). These same methods also can lull you back to sleep at 3 a.m.
Sleep Stealer #4: Your Bedroom Looks Like Your Living Room
Lots of factors affect slumber, including the age and comfort of your mattress and pillows, your room's temperature, and lighting — a particularly big issue. Electronics are brightening up our bedrooms like Times Square.
Sleep Salvation: Make Your Room a Haven
Cover up even the smallest speck of light (including your clock) with a Post-it note or by turning it away from your bed. Or try a sleep mask like Kaysie Routh, 40, of York, Pennsylvania, did. "I hadn't realized how disruptive those TV and DVR lights were," says Routh, who has found total darkness to be restful.
Keep the temperature between 65 and 72 degrees and assess your mattress. "Replace it at least every seven years, or more often if you experience back or joint pain," says Dr. Breus, who also penned The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan. At least once a year, swap out your pillows with ones designed for your preferred position: thicker if you're a side sleeper, flatter if you sleep on your stomach.
Sleep Stealer #5: You Overload Your Nights
Chances are your kids' bedtime marks the start of a whirlwind race to see how many items you can check off your to-do list before collapsing. "Evenings are my time to catch up on cleaning, laundry, my 11-year-old's homeschooling stuff, e-mail and, yes, work projects," says Routh. When this graphic artist finally crawls into bed at midnight, her mind is still racing and she can't drift off. Plus she wakes up with a headache.
Sleep Salvation: Front-Load Your Days
"It's best to tackle mental tasks during daylight hours when sunshine suppresses the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone," says Dr. Marks. So Routh revamped her schedule. She's now in bed by 10 p.m., up at 5 a.m., and headache-free. "My morning starts earlier," she says. "But I feel rested because I'm in bed at a better hour."
Exposure to light via sunshine for 30 minutes in the morning can help your internal clock adapt to a new rest routine. "Daylight sets your body's circadian rhythm — the one that regulates sleep and wakefulness — by turning melatonin production on or off," says Dr. Marks, who writes a sleep advice column for BedtimeNetwork.com.
To keep nagging thoughts from eating away at your slumber, write down your concerns or tomorrow's action items in a worry journal before calling it a night. If your mind still wanders — either at bedtime or at 2 a.m. — distract it by counting backward from 300 by 3s.
Sleep Stealer #6: You're Plugged In 24/7
Before calling it a night, Katie Dwyer, 44, watches TV, catches up on work on her computer, and checks her phone for messages. The Naperville, Illinois, mom is in bed by 10 p.m. — but she's not sleeping much. "The light emitted from electronic devices is a potential stimulant," says Dr. Krieger. While the screen might not seem that bright to you, your brain responds to it like sunlight. Watching movies, playing games, or reading on a tablet for two hours causes melatonin levels to drop by 22%, according to a recent study.
Sleep Salvation: Block Light Waves
If you can't stick to an electronic curfew — no television, computer, tablet, or phone at least 30 minutes before lights-out — use special glasses or a screen protector (lowbluelights.com, from $68 and $35, respectively) to block or filter out blue light, the wavelength most disruptive to slumber. Dwyer went with a simpler solution, albeit one that requires willpower: She banished the phone from her bedroom. "My sleep is 100% more restful," she says.
Sleep Stealer #7: Your Kids Dictate Your Bedtime
Bedtime is a free-for-all at Tracey Moore-Higbee's home in Dover, Delaware. "My 16-year-old son is often up past midnight, and I'm up even later," says the 42-year-old. Not surprisingly, getting out of bed at 6 a.m. is a struggle for them both. Teenagers' developing bodies need even more shut-eye than adults', yet only 20% get the recommended 8.5 to 9 hours.
Sleep Salvation: Institute a Lights-Out Policy
Setting clear and consistent limits is key to helping tweens and teens get the rest they need so that you can get the rest you need. "There's a growing tendency to give teenagers more leeway when it comes to their schedules, whereas what they really need is to follow bedtime rules," says Dr. Krieger. That means taking away electronic devices an hour before bedtime and helping your child find a relaxing way to unwind, such as reading, writing, drawing, meditating, or — gasp! — conversing with you. Once on a schedule, teens — as well as adults — should be able to fall asleep by 10:30 p.m. Moore-Higbee gradually moved up her bedtime and her son's in 30-minute increments to a more reasonable hour. "I still struggle with getting to bed on time and getting up on time, but doing it gradually makes it easier each day," she says.
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.
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