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Momsomnia: Reclaim Your Rest

When Annie Krusznis gave birth four years ago, she rejoiced the first time her son Will slept through the night, thinking her sleep woes were over. She didn’t know that she would endure three more years of insomnia while he slept peacefully in his crib.

Parenting an active toddler by day and struggling with insomnia at night “was almost a form of torture,” Krusznis recalls. “I got frustrated easily, I couldn’t focus. I developed symptoms of depression.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 67% of women have frequent sleep problems. Nearly half report tiredness that interferes with daily life, leaving them too tired for exercise, healthy eating, friends or sex. More than 25% of women admit to drowsy driving, the cause of 100,000 auto accidents each year.

Women have a natural sleep disadvantage compared to men. We experience higher rates of insomnia and nighttime pain, but need around 20 minutes more sleep per night, says Jim Horne, author of Sleepfaring: A Journey Through The Science Of Sleep.

Why We Need Our Sleep

Women ages 30 through 60 typically clock only 6 hours and 41 minutes of weeknight sleep. Moms who work full-time report spending fewer than 6 hours in bed during the week.

When we repeatedly shortchange our sleep needs, our bodies pay the price: health and mood problems, from irritability and poor concentration to insulin resistance and weight gain. “People with sleep disorders experience so many other health problems, you can almost see them aging faster,” says sleep disorder specialist Sridar Chalaka, MD.

Ironically, says Dr. Chalaka, women who forgo sleep to wring more productivity from their day are actually preventing themselves from working at their peak. “We acclimate to sleep deprivation, so we may never realize that we’d be much more creative, calmer, more productive and less stressed if we’d only get more rest,” he says.

Reclaiming Rest

Robert Aronson, MD, medical director of Cardinal Sleep Disorder Centers of America, recommends a predictable wind-down ritual at bedtime, avoiding strong light in the evening and going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Here are other good sleep practices.

  • Exercise 4-5 hours before bedtime; avoid exercising late at night.
  • Sleep in a dark, quiet, comfortable room with a temperature of 60-68 degrees.
  • Avoid caffeine or other stimulants after 2pm.
  • Short afternoon power naps are okay, but avoid sleeping too long.
  • Check your medications. Antidepressants, thyroid hormones, beta blockers, diuretics and some decongestants can harm sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol at bedtime.
  • Relaxation, meditation, hypnosis, biofeedback and aromatherapy can improve sleep.

If you experience sleep troubles that disrupt your daily life for more than a month, seek professional help. A lengthy bout of sleep troubles could be psycho-physiological insomnia. This condition takes hold when night waking becomes a habit and can persist for years without treatment.

Malia Jacobson is a  freelance writer and mom of two who specializes in sleep and health topics.

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