number of approaches to improving sleep, including those you can do yourself such as exercise, establishing regular bed and wake times, dietary changes (less or no caffeine and alcohol) and improving your sleep environment. One recent study found that overweight, post-menopausal women who exercise in the morning experience less difficulty falling asleep and better quality sleep than evening exercisers.
If insomnia persists, and lifestyle, behavioral or diet changes do not help, a doctor may prescribe a sleep-promoting medication (hypnotic). In some instances, there may be an underlying and treatable cause, such as depression (women are twice as likely to report depression as men), stress, anxiety, reflux, bladder problems or pain. Doctors may prescribe antidepressants (for depression), anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs), medications for heartburn, incontinence or pain and/or hypnotic medications to improve sleep.
Feeling sleepy during the day or at times you expect to be awake may indicate a need for more sleep, the presence of a serious but treatable disorder such as those already mentioned, or narcolepsy, a chronic neurological disorder that affects approximately one in 2000 people. Narcolepsy symptoms frequently appear in teen years. In addition to excessive daytime sleepiness, people with narcolepsy have sudden "sleep attacks" (an over-whelming urge to sleep), suddenly lose muscle tone or strength (cataplexy) and may have disturbed nighttime sleep. Women who are pregnant or considering having a child should discuss medications with their doctor. Recent scientific break-throughs have led to new understanding of the cause of this condition and new treatments have given doctors more ways to help manage its symptoms.
Persons with nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NS-RED), an uncommon condition, eat food during the night while they appear asleep. Since parts of the brain that control memory are asleep, people with NS-RED cannot remember nighttime eating. One study indicates that over 66 percent of sufferers are women. NS-RED can occur during sleepwalking. It can be caused by medications (e.g. some drugs prescribed for depression or insomnia) or by sleep disorders (e.g. sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome) that cause awakenings and trigger sleep eating.