Men, Women, and Sleep

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man and women in bed 

The sexes differ here, too. How to give it a rest.

If you’re tossing and turning at night, you’re not alone. Women report more insomnia and sleep disturbances than men. In the 2007 Sleep In America Poll from the National Sleep Foundation, half of women reported waking up unrefreshed. In fact, one-third said they slept well only a few nights a month.

But that doesn’t mean that women have to suffer. A good night’s rest is within your grasp.

Wind Down.

People do all kinds of things before turning in for the night, and what they do can have an effect on sleep. In the hour before bed, 87% of women say they watch TV at least a few nights a week in the hour prior to bed. Finishing chores (60%), reading (51%), and taking a hot bath or shower (49%) are other popular routines.

Using a computer or other electronic device before bed can make it hard to fall asleep; the same goes for watching TV. Few women report drinking alcohol before bed, which is good – that can result in wakefulness later in the night.

We’d certainly recommend taking time for yourself – it’s important to unwind from the day and let the body prepare for sleep. But about an hour before it’s time to go to bed, turn off the electronics, and ideally stow them in another room. The light emitted from electronic devices can affect your ability to get a good night’s rest. Reading (in a real book or magazine) is a healthier alternative!

Warm water, cool room.

The warm bath or shower; it helps get your body ready to sleep by raising your body temperature a bit. People begin to feel sleepy when their body temperature drops. Heading into a cooler bedroom provides a temperature contrast that will help you make the transition to sleep. (It probably helps that you already feel relaxed and are ready for the next step.)

How cool should the bedroom be? Choose a temperature between 60 and 67 degrees, especially the week or two before your period. If you’re menopausal, a cool sleeping environment can also help get you through night sweats and hot flashes during sleep.

Good habits = good sleep.

Going to bed at about the same time each day, including weekends, helps you feel sleepier at bedtime and fall asleep quicker. Keep the routine going with relaxing rituals—perhaps yoga, deep breathing, or keeping a worry log—to transition body and mind.

Bad habits = bad sleep.

Alcohol isn’t the only substance that can keep you awake. Avoid nicotine (even e-cigarettes have it) and caffeine (including chocolate) before bed. Your own tolerance will tell you how early in the day is too close to bed for these stimulants.

Closing eyes and ears.

Other well-known stimulants: light and noise. Even a little bit of light can be a problem, so try blackout curtains; dim or turn your clock away from direct view; and don’t use tablets or smartphones in bed. Once you’ve eliminated noise as much as possible, you can try masking it. White-noise machines offer several choices of soft, soothing sounds.

Get comfortable.

Your bedroom environment should be your sanctuary, whether you’re one of the 65% of women who report sleeping with a significant other or the 14% who report sleeping with a pet. Once you’re in bed, get comfortable in whatever way feels best to you.

One study examining the sleep of women across the lifespan assessed sleeping positions during the night and found that the majority of women (48%) ages 20 to 44 slept in the supine position (lying on the back facing up), followed by 21% sleeping on their left side, 20% sleeping on their right side, and 11% sleeping in the prone position (on the stomach). One exception is during pregnancy – doctors recommend women in later stages of pregnancy sleep on their side instead of on their backs as it promotes better blood flow.

It’s worth experimenting until you find the right combination of bedroom environment and nighttime habits that best helps you sleep. Imagine how much better you’ll feel with a full night’s rest—every night!