The pace and stresses of today’s world means sleep is even more important to our general health and wellbeing. However, our constant connection to the world, fueled by caffeinated drinks and other stimulants, electronic bombardment from television, computers, email, cell phones and other distractions is not conducive to setting us up for a restful night’s sleep. Add in the demands of work, home, children and the challenge of eating well and getting regular exercise, and it’s no wonder we’re always tired!
According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly 40 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, and women are more likely than men to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, especially as we age. One of the hallmark symptoms of perimenopause and menopause is insomnia due to declining estrogen levels. Stress and anxiety also elevates cortisol levels, eventually sending our adrenal glands into overdrive, which also affects our ability to sleep.
Most people function best when getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but studies show that American woman between ages 30-60 only get an average of 6 hours and 41 minutes per night during the work week. We’re chronically sleep-deprived, and our constantly fluctuating hormone levels play a huge role in the problem.
While sleep medications can be helpful in the short term, they are not generally recommended for long-term use as they can be both physically and psychologically addictive and increase some health risks. Changing your environment, cutting down on stimulants like caffeine and alcohol that can disrupt sleep and seeing a hormonal health professional to address any underlying hormonal imbalances can help.
Establishing a nightly “shut down and unwind” or sleep hygiene ritual with regular sleep and waking times is important. Avoiding caffeine late in the day, and shutting off television and computers after 9 pm or even earlier is also good. A small dose of the supplement melatonin to help regulate sleep and waking cycles, a glass of warm milk (mom really did know best) or a warm bath can also help. People with chronic sleep issues or sleep anxiety, a condition where fear of not being able to sleep becomes a self-fulfilling nightly reality, may also benefit from counseling.
While there will always be things to keep us awake at night, learning how to properly manage or reduce our stress levels and shut off can help keep us rested and healthier. Within my own practice, I’ve seen many women’s sleep issues become manageable or no longer an issue simply through proper hormone replacement therapy and establishing good sleep hygiene habits.
Dr. Angela DeRosa is a nationally recognized expert in the field of Internal Medicine and Women's Health. DeRosa Medical has locations in Scottsdale, Sedona and Chandler. For more information, call 480-619-4097 or visit DeRosaMedical.com.