Save your Sleep

sleep Aug 04, 2021

Women struggle more than men to get a good night’s rest. Let’s fix that.

Women appear to have a predisposition to struggling with insomnia. Research meta-analysis has shown it. Surveys by the National Sleep Foundation have shown it. Up to 67 percent of women reported having trouble sleeping at least a few nights over the past month, according to one Sleep Foundation survey. And some research suggests that the lifetime risk of insomnia is 40 percent higher in women than men. 

Hormones are a large part of the story. Both estrogen and progesterone affect sleep quality and quantity. Research shows that periods (pun intended!) of hormonal change during a women’s life are also times when we are at an increased risk for sleep disturbances like insomnia, poor sleep quality, and sleep disorders 

For instance, rising and falling levels of estrogen and progesterone during the menstrual cycle can cause physical and emotional changes that alter your sleep architecture and can lead to sleep disruptions. Research shows that women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) report poorer sleep quality that is linked to higher levels of anxiety.

Once women hit the menopausal transition, sleep really hits the skids. As your hormones decline, sleep disturbances, including trouble falling asleep, frequent awakening, and/or early morning awakening increase. And that’s not even taking into account the sleep-wrecking effects of common symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.

Poor sleep can lead to poor performance, especially once you dip below six hours a night or have a lot of disrupted, broken sleep. A 2019 meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found sleep deprivation negatively impacted a raft of factors important to athletes, including running performance, muscle glycogen storage, muscle strength, torque, time to exhaustion, sprint times, accuracy, and skills as well as decreased mood, vigor, and reaction times. It also decreases your insulin sensitivity, turns up your appetite, and makes you more likely to store fat.

As if that weren’t enough, according to research gathered in Dr. Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep, relative to sleeping 9 hours a night, sleeping five to six a night increases your chances of getting injured over the course of a season by more than 200%.

Now, what do you do about it? Let’s start with the sleep hygiene basics. Though these are relevant for both women and men, they’re especially important for us because our hormones can make it more challenging for our core body temperature to drop as much as we need for optimum sleeping conditions.

  • Keep your bedroom cool. Aim for 65 degrees or as close to it as possible. When a room is too warm, it’s harder for your body to cool down.
  • Go dark. You want your bedroom to be like a cool, dark cave. Cover charger lights. Dim clock faces. Flip your phone (if it must be by your bed at all) face down. Hang some black-out curtains. If there’s no way to completely dim the ambient light, try a sleep mask.
  • Have a hot bath (or shower if that suits you better). Steamy water relaxes your mind and body. And when you get out of the water, your body quickly expels heat, causing your core temperature to drop, signaling to your brain that it’s time for sleep.
  • Cue the quiet. You may be able to sleep through a bit of noise, but falling asleep with noisy traffic or teens banging about the house is a challenge. Well-fitting earplugs are a simple solution. Or try a white noise machine (which often have settings like ocean waves crashing on the shore).
  • Have your last meal 2 hours before bed. A small bedtime snack is okay. But make sure dinner is done two hours before you want to go to sleep to allow plenty of digestion time.
  • Create a bedtime routine. About 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed, start shutting down electronics, dimming lights, and keeping screens to a minimum. Grab a book and wind down.

You can also coax your body into a state of slumber with some natural sleep aids. My favorites include:

Montmorency tart cherry juice. The juice is naturally high in melatonin, which promotes sleep. Drink it ice cold (which has the added benefit of lowering your core temperature) 30 minutes before bed.

Adaptogens. If stress is what’s keeping you awake, adaptogens might be your sleep solution. Adaptogens are plants that increase your body’s resistance to stress. They do so by targeting your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), a neuroendocrine system that controls your reaction to stress and regulates various body functions such as digestion, mood, temperature control, and immunity. When you take them, they build up in your body over time and block some of your cortisol response, so you experience less stress. Two to try: Ashwagandha, which helps reduce cortisol and anxiety as well as helps regulate body temperature, and Rhodiola, which balances neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

Good nutrition is also key. Research shows magnesium, which you can find in greens, whole grains, nuts and seeds, is a muscle relaxant and helps induce deep sleep. Magnesium supplementation also can improve sleep efficiency, sleep latency, early morning awakening, and insomnia. A deficiency in B vitamins is linked to mood disorders like depression as well as insomnia. 

Research on 60 men and women diagnosed with insomnia found that those who took a magnesium-melatonin-vitamin-B complex supplement for three months had significant improvements in their sleep.

Are you keen to be part of a sleep product trial?

As many of you know, I don't make or recommend many products, however, I am particularly proud of the new Sleep product I make as part of ERW.  We are now running a trial of the product to gather user feedback.  If you join us you will be asked to fill in a 'pre' survey, take the freely provided product for a few weeks, keep a sleep diary, then fill in the 'post' survey.  If this sounds like something you are interested in, please visit the registration site.

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