In my early years of motherhood, I did not realize the importance of sleep. After surviving an OB/GYN residency, I was accustomed to living on minimal sleep. Through my early years in private practice, I could be up all night delivering babies and then go to the office and see patients all day without a break.
Then, as a mom, I was blessed with a daughter, and then twins the next time. Nursing those kids definitely kept me up! Eventually though, the kids were all sleeping through the night, and I wasn’t. I could no longer blame it on the kids – they were “sleeping tight,” and I wasn’t.
So how important is sleep? Your body really needs 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Certain hormonal things go on at night to regenerate your body functions. Women who work night shift can completely disrupt their circadian rhythm, thus changing the levels of a hormone called Cortisol. I didn’t realize back then that hunger hormones such as Ghrelin and Leptin are disrupted when sleep is poor, and as a result you will eat more the next day. In fact, you will most likely crave carbohydrates to give you energy to get through your day. In addition, if your cortisol rhythm is disrupted, it begins to oppose the actions of insulin, which is involved in your sugar metabolism. This alone can make you gain weight, especially in the abdominal region. An expert stated that for each hour you sleep less than 7 hours, you could gain 5 pounds. Ladies, if that is not enough incentive to make sleep a priority, then I don’t know what is!
Some women just choose not to sleep enough because they feel like they have too much work or housework to finish before they can go to sleep. Some women would love to sleep more, but they either can’t fall asleep or stay asleep. When your cortisol rhythm gets disrupted due chronic stress, many women feel tired but wired at bedtime. So they don’t even “retire” until midnight. However, you must try to have lights out by 10:30 p.m., as your cortisol begins to rise and may peak again, making you feel “wired” later at night. Also, problems sleeping are one of the most common menopausal symptoms I hear about, even as early as in your thirties!
So my other suggestions for good sleep hygiene include also turning those computers, iPad, iPods and phones off at least an hour before retiring. All of those devices shine light into your eyes, which suppress your brain’s production of a sleep hormone called melatonin. (I don’t let my teenage daughter charge her phone in her room because of that.) Reading is a good relaxing activity as well as listening to music. Both can help you wind down before going to sleep.
What do you do if none of that works? What if you are just lying looking at the clock thinking, “OK, if I fall asleep now, I’ll get 6 hours of sleep?” There are some safe over the counter sleep remedies that you can try. Tylenol PM is just Tylenol with Benadryl. That would help if you have any unknown food allergies, but most people feel pretty groggy in the morning. I like taking Melatonin in a small dose of 1-3 mg. At first, it could make you have crazy dreams, but that is a good sign that you are sleeping deeper. If you are someone who has problems turning off your brain and can’t stop thinking of everything you have to do, L-Theanine 200 mg is really good for what I call “mind chatter.” It is an amino acid from green tea that is very safe.