To Sleep, Perchance to… Sleep! The Challenge of Insomnia for Women
July 20, 2010Posted by pamela |
Are you a mom who has trouble getting enough sleep? You're not alone! In this guest article, Dr. Lisa Brent offers some facts about insomnia and what you can do to combat it and get the rest you need and deserve.
“Sleep when the baby sleeps” is advice many mothers receive when they bring a new baby home. This is a really great idea, but it is not always so easy to do. For many women, sleep does not come easily, even when they are completely exhausted by the daily (and nightly) demands of motherhood.
Mothers of young children have a hard enough time finding an opportunity to rest; this frustration can be compounded when she can’t fall asleep during the short window of time she has available.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by the inability to fall asleep and/or to remain asleep for a reasonable period during the night. It can also mean waking too early in the morning or experiencing nonrestorative sleep. Recurrent insomnia can lead to fatigue, distress or impairment in functioning. Sound familiar?
The National Sleep Foundation Women and Sleep poll found that 53% of women experience one or more symptom of insomnia on a regular basis. That number rises to 60% among women transitioning through menopause. Their findings also revealed that women are 1.4 to 2 times more likely to report insomnia than men.
Insomnia is often a symptom of an underlying hormonal, nutritional, pharmacological or psychological problem and these issues will have to be addressed. Women who are experiencing sleep disorders may also need an evaluation for sleep apnea.
By far the most common cause of insomnia is a dysfunction in the central nervous system, which can lead to imbalances of certain neurotransmitters and/or hormones. Tests for abnormal levels of these body chemicals can be useful in helping patients and healthcare practitioners decide which interventions are best for individualized care.
The best approach for treating insomnia is to address the underlying cause and, at the same time, offer short-term relief. One of the first steps I recommend is to create good “sleep hygiene”. This includes some of the basics such as going to bed at a regular time each night, avoiding naps, sleeping in a comfortable bed, keeping lights and noise low and refraining from watching TV in the bedroom. (In fact, watching a TV or computer screen during the hour before going to bed can decrease melatonin levels, making sleep that much harder to come by.) If sleep does not come after 20-30 minutes, get out of bed and engage in quiet activity and then return to bed.
It is also important to assess the diet. Avoiding stimulants (coffee, caffeinated tea, chocolate, caffeinated sodas), especially during the second half of the day, is essential. Since a drop in blood glucose causes the release of chemicals that stimulate the brain, eating complex carbohydrates with some protein can help maintain sleep through the night by regulating blood sugar. Good bedtime snack ideas include a rice cake with almond butter or sliced turkey and cheese on whole grain bread. Warm milk (rice or soy milk work, too) is a tried-and-true remedy that actually has some science behind it. Try sprinkling some cardamom or nutmeg for added flavor and digestive benefit.
Techniques such as progressive muscular relaxation, biofeedback, meditation, warm baths and soothing music can be helpful. During the winter season, light therapy may also be beneficial. No matter what the season, it is very important to get outside at least once a day. All new mothers know how hard even this simple step can be. Regular exercise is also very important, even if it has to be at a gym during bed weather.
Many women who are desperate for a good night of sleep turn to prescription medications such as Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta. While these drugs can be helpful in the short-term, their safety has not been assessed for long-term use.
Many natural approaches with herbs and supplements can be safely used over time or just as needed. Herbal teas, tinctures or capsules containing chamomile, kava, valerian, lavender, hops, lemon balm, skullcap, oat straw or California poppy taken in the evening can help to induce restful sleep. A small dose of melatonin before bedtime can also be helpful, but it should not be used during pregnancy or lactation. As always, it is a good idea to check with your health practitioner before using an herb or supplement for the first time.
Sleep issues can be frustrating to experience and difficult to treat. When simple home remedies do not do the trick, it is wise to seek the help of a practitioner who can assess and identify the root cause of the problem. There is no better feeling than waking up in the morning after a truly restful night of sleep. We need it and we deserve it.
Lisa Brent, ND, LAc is a naturopathic doctor specializing in women’s health and integrative gynecology at the Owning Pink Center in Mill Valley, CA. She can be reached at (415) 746-6140 or www.drlisabrent.com.