Fighting insomnia? Try these tips

February 22, 2012 3:54:51 AM PST
As many of you start getting ready for bed, listen to this: three out of 10 of you will have trouble going to sleep. And women now have more sleep problems than men! We have some fresh ideas on how we can beat insomnia.

"I've always been jealous of friends whose heads hit the pillow and they sleep all night," said Rebecca Privat, who suffers from insomnia.

Privat has tried half a dozen over-the-counter sleep products.

"But I would wake up in the morning just feeling so heavy and groggy and foggy," she said.

Finally she realized she's tossing and turning because her mind is spinning.

"All the things I need to do, all the things I haven't done. And then it starts to give me anxiety and I start thinking, I have to be up, I have to be up," Privat said.

The National Sleep Foundation found nearly three in 10 women say they take a sleeping aid several nights a week.

"On a bad night when I feel a lot of anxiety, I definitely cannot sleep without the help of drugs," said Maria, another woman who suffers from sleep deprivation.

Work stress was Maria's problem. She uses medicines, anti-anxiety pills and muscle relaxants to sleep.

Eight out of 10 women have sleep problems at some point in their lives. Some turn to traditional sleep products like melatonin, but we even found a drink called NeuroSleep.

Women are right to be concerned. Sleep loss is linked to heart problems, diabetes and dangerous driving. But there's a lot more:

  • Sleep loss dumbs you down, interfering with your reasoning
  • Makes you forgetful because memories are consolidated during sleep.
  • Makes you gain weight because it increases hormones that stimulate appetite
  • Ages skin by reducing human growth hormone production and increasing stress hormones that break down collagen
  • And yes, lack of sleep can actually make you sick, because it reduces proteins that fight infections

Yet doctors often don't take women's sleep problems seriously.

"Yeah that's probably nothing, that's probably just normal but it is not normal," said Dr. Anandhi Murugan, a sleep specialist at UTHealth.

So why is it that more women than men have trouble sleeping? Dr. Murugan blames the job and family stress and hormones. Hormone cycles can keep women from falling, especially a few days before your cycle begins. Menopause also can cause insomnia.

To recapture sleep, Dr. Murugan says set aside time to worry.

"Maybe 5:30 to 6 and say, 'Yeah, this is the time I'm going to think about all my problems. It doesn't solve your problems any better but it gives you the sense that yes you're putting in the effort and thought about it. And after 6, I've had enough worry; I'm not gonna worry any more," Dr. Murugan said.

She also suggests limiting technology with bright screens before bed. Try bananas and warm milk; they have amino acids that increase melatonin.

A warm bath will lower body temperature and tell the brain it's time to sleep.

And if you need an occasional sleep aid, doctors say that's OK, too. Privat often takes an Ambien on work nights. It has helped. And she says so has giving herself permission to rest.

"Morning will come, just you can do all the things you haven't done today tomorrow. So I can be my own worst enemy whenever I can't sleep at night," Privat said.

Medicines like Prozac, Zoloft and some blood pressure medicines also can cause insomnia.


Load Comments