Sleep. All moms want more of it. Once we make it past the baby years, we enter the toddler-sleeping-with-us years, followed by the preschooler-in-our-bed-after-a-nightmare years. By the time our kids no longer need us in the middle of the night, we’re waking up all on our own. Whether the cause is stress, anxiety or hormonal changes, most of us are not getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. And the reality is that sleep deprivation can lead to serious health issues. Studies link a lack of sleep to depression and weight gain and have found that sleep-deprived driving is on par with drunk driving. It’s time we start taking the subject seriously. Here’s how to begin.
ESTABLISH RELAXING RITUALS
Take a warm bath, spray your pillow with lavender, meditate, write in a journal, read a book or listen to a relaxation app. There are plenty of apps that help you focus on the present instead of tomorrow’s to-do list. The Calm app offers a variety of meditations as well as classic books being read by the famously monotone actor Ben Stein. The app, OMG. I Can Meditate! is also great for beginners. Or try mindful relaxation games. Starting with your toes, clench each muscle group for thirty seconds and then release. Continue up your body until you reach your forehead.
STICK TO A SCHEDULE
Netflix has made it way too easy to stay up and binge watch “just one more episode.” Set a time to be in bed that allows you a half hour to wind down without electronic screens and a solid seven hours before your alarm—or kids—will wake you up. Screens are stimulating, so no TV, no texting, no emailing and no Candy Crush.
If a neighborhood dog or a snoring partner is keeping you up, white noise like a fan set on low or a sound machine with options like a waterfall or soft surf can help. Or go old school with earplugs. Quies, a French brand of moldable wax earplugs, are so effective we’re convinced they can block the sound of a freight train running through your bedroom—moms of little ones might want to make sure Dad’s ears are open (available on Amazon).
KEEP IT COOL IN THE DARK
Darkness and temperature are key signals to your brain that it’s time to sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 65 degrees is the ideal temperature for a restful night’s sleep. And although your bedroom sheers may look pretty, if you are rolling over in a moonlight-filled room, consider black-out shades that limit or block light. Don’t want to change your window treatments? Try a sleep mask. Pro tip: Some moisturizers can make the dye of a new mask run, leaving marks on your face; also the dye could leave marks on your linens, so use an old pillowcase to test it out.
Yup, ladies, it’s true. Women snore just as much as men and you may be waking yourself up. Try Breathe Right Nasal Strips, which help to open up the nasal air passages. Dry air can also be a culprit by causing sinus congestion, mouth-breathing and dry throats. Consider a humidifier.
Special pillows can help encourage side-sleeping, as back-sleeping can be the factor in snoring. Check out sleep-apnea-guide.com for pillows that support side-sleeping, such as the Tri-Core 200 and Contour Tempur-Pedic. Pair a pillow with a Bumper Belt, a special sleeping harness that features adjustable inflatable bumpers on the back to make back-sleeping impossible.
DITCH THE P.M. BUZZ
Caffeine may fuel your day, but if you don’t set a cutoff point, it may fuel your night, too. Caffeine stays in the system for hours so make your last cup no later than 4 p.m.
Apnea is not just bad snoring, it is the complete blockage of air to the lungs that stops one from breathing. There are serious long-term health implications, such as heart damage. Most people can’t determine the difference between snoring and apnea, but testing for sleep apnea is surprisingly simple. The Sleep Center at Greenwich Hospital greenwichhospital.org/services/sleep-center offers both home sleep testing and overnight in-hospital testing. The upside to a diagnosis? After being treated, patients are amazed at their increased energy level and improved health once quality sleep is restored.
CHECK YOUR HORMONES
Hormones can be the culprit for sleep disruptions. Perimenopause typically begins in a woman’s forties and can last for several years, bringing with it fluctuations in hormones that can increase anxiety and cause hot flashes that wake a women in a sweat. See a doctor to stay on top of hormone levels and weigh the options that can alleviate symptoms. A physician with expertise in this area can help explain more about hormone replacement therapy, topical hormones, bioidentical hormones and over-the-counter phytoestrogens found in black cohosh, ginseng and red clover.
The drug store is full of vitamins and herbal remedies that promote sleep. Some may work for you but do your research and always talk to your doctor before taking any herbal supplements, as they may interact with medications or medical conditions.
DON’T BLOW IT OFF
According to the National Sleep Foundation, over 20 million women suffer from some form of insomnia. Several physical and psychological conditions can impact sleep—acid reflux, thyroid problems and neurological conditions. If you’re having trouble getting or staying asleep for a period of time, see a doctor to explore possible causes.
BANISH THE BLUE LIGHT
Any form of blue light can inhibit your body’s production of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone you produce at night. So put away the computers, phones and iPads. If you can’t manage without your iPad before bed, try using yellow-lensed glasses, which limit the amount of blue light that will stimulate your brain.