Benefits of Sound Sleep

Woman sleeping in bed

Quality Sleep: Why It’s Important

Daily life is brimming with obligations, responsibilities and tasks that seem to require nearly all those precious 24 hours to complete. Yet there’s one significant aspect of our daily life (and, more importantly, our daily personal health) that we often sacrifice so we can check off many tasks from our daunting daily “to-do” lists, especially by women: a quality night’s sleep.

A quality night’s sleep should be at the top of your “to-do” list every day. It’s recommended by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that adults get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Yet the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports nearly 2/3 of U.S. women don’t get the amount of required sleep nightly, with women experiencing significantly more sleep-related issues than men.

Research indicates good quality sleep is essential for your physical and your mental health and well-being. Many vital tasks are carried out by your body and your brain when you sleep, helping you to stay healthy and function at your best. During sleep, your body fights off viruses and other pathogens, operates a waste removal system to clean the brain, seeks and eliminates cancer cells, repairs injured tissues and forms vital memories essential for learning.

Additionally, quality sleep affects how well your growth and stress hormones, immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health function. Poor sleep quality can result in lowered sex drive as well as skin issues, including acne, sallowness and aging. Quality night sleep improves your mental health and your mood; increases your clarity, focus and reflexes; helps you make sound decisions; and enhances your productivity.

What’s more, quality sleep has been proven by researchers to lessen your susceptibility to disease and illness. Research indicates lack of sleep increases your risk for obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, and getting infections, according to the CDC. Ongoing research shows lack of sleep can produce diabetic-like conditions in otherwise healthy people. What’s more, recent studies reveal sleep quality can affect vaccination efficiencies.

Your local Capital Women’s Care team wants to share important information about the risk factors associated with sleep disorders, an overview of sleep disorders commonly affecting women, including their symptoms and appropriate treatments. We also offer you important tips to help you achieve quality sleep so you may realize and enjoy optimal mental and physical health.

Sleep Disorder Risk Factors

There are several factors that increase your risk for developing sleep disorders. These include:

  • gender – women are often more likely to experience poor quality sleep patterns and sleep disorders than men.
  • age - being over the age of 60 increases your risk of sleep disorders. This is especially true for postmenopausal women.
  • having a diagnosis of either depression or anxiety
  • frequent travel to long distances – particularly if jet lag occurs.
  • high stress levels – balancing many duties, obligations and responsibilities, particularly if they elevate your stress levels, puts you at greater risk for sleep disorders.
  • working night shifts – affects the body’s melatonin production and balance, which can adversely affect sleep patterns, leading to sleep disorders and health issues.
  • obesity or being overweight – research links obesity to increased risk for sleep disorders, particularly sleep apnea.
  • smoking tobacco and alcohol consumption
  • and poor sleep hygiene.

Women and Sleep Issues

Menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause all can adversely affect women’s sleep quality. Women’s changing hormone levels, from growth through childhood, during puberty with the onset of menstruation, through reproductive years including pregnancy and child-rearing plus transitioning toward menopause and beyond into old age, can significantly impact women’s sleep patterns.  What’s more, you may not get enough sleep due to illness, medications or sleep disorders as you become older.

Women are more likely to experience sleep issues and complaints than men due to these life-long hormone fluctuations.

The most common sleep disorders among women include:

insomnia -- includes trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or early awakening and the inability to resume sleep.

Symptoms include:

  • difficulty falling asleep at night
  • waking up during the night and being unable to return to sleep
  • waking up earlier than desired
  • still feeling tired after a night's sleep
  • daytime fatigue or sleepiness
  • irritability, depression, or anxiety
  • poor concentration and focus
  • being uncoordinated, experiencing an increase in errors or accidents
  • tension headaches (feelings of having a tight band around head)
  • difficulty socializing
  • gastrointestinal symptoms
  • and worrying about sleeping.

Treatments may include any one or combination of the following:

sleep-disordered breathing -- conditions of abnormal and difficult respiration during sleep, including chronic snoring and sleep apnea. Some can have serious consequences due to potential effects on sleep and balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.

Symptoms often overlap and include:

  • loud snoring
  • episodes with stopped breathing during sleep
  • gasping for air during sleep
  • awakening with a dry mouth
  • morning headache
  • difficulty staying asleep
  • excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
  • difficulty paying attention while awake
  • and irritability.

Treatments include:

  • Behavior modification aimed at improving sleep hygiene and avoiding additional sleep deprivation
  • Avoid supine sleeping position and ethanol and sedative medications

restless legs syndrome (RLS or Willis-Ekbom disease) -- uncontrollable urges to move the legs, usually due to uncomfortable sensations. It typically happens in the evening or nighttime hours when seated or lying down. Moving eliminates the unpleasant feeling temporarily.

Uncomfortable sensations signifying RLS may include:

  • tingling, burning, itching or throbbing
  • a "creepy-crawly" feeling
  • feeling like fizzy water is inside the blood vessels in the legs
  • a painful, cramping sensation in the legs, particularly in the calves
  • leg jerking
  • crawling
  • creeping
  • pulling
  • throbbing
  • aching
  • and itching.

Treatments include:

  • Medication, particularly those that increase dopamine in the brain or drugs affecting calcium channels.
  • Simple lifestyle changes, including massage, alternative heat/cool packs, baths, good sleep hygiene practices, exercise, elimination of caffeine, and foot wraps can ease sensations.

periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) –- occurs when limbs move involuntarily and periodically during sleep, with symptoms or problems related to the movement. Those with PLMD have no recollection of movements.

Symptoms include:

  • poor sleep
  • daytime sleepiness
  • frequent awakenings
  • and rhythmic movements involving one or both legs during sleep. To be characterized as PLMS, movements must:
    • involve one or both limbs, with a tightening, bending, or flexing of the knee, ankle, or big toe
    • occur typically during the first half of the night
    • last 2 seconds at a time and repeat every 5 to 90 seconds at least 15 times per hour.

PLMD leg movements can vary in nature from night to night, ranging from mild to severe. Movements may also occasionally involve hips and upper arms.

Movements distinctive to PLMD are their repetitive nature and occurrence during sleep.

Treatment may include a mix of lifestyle changes (incorporating more iron into your diet, for example) and medication, depending on symptom severity.

narcolepsy -- is characterized by overwhelming daytime drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep. People with narcolepsy often find it difficult to stay awake for long periods of time, regardless of circumstance.

Symptoms include:

  • excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) -- evident even after getting enough sleep and make any activity difficult.
  • cataplexy – means sudden loss of muscle tone. This can exhibit as slurred speech or total body collapse.
  • sleep paralysis -- inability to move upon awakening and can last for few seconds to several minutes.
  • hallucinations -- occur either during sleep onset (hypnagogic) or during awakening (hypnopompic.)
  • disrupted sleep – disturbed nighttime sleep due to vivid dreams, breathing problems or body movements.

Treatments include medications (stimulants or antidepressants) as well as other drugs depending upon symptoms and their severity.

Disrupted Sleep Dangers

In recent years, studies have shown short-term sleep deprivation can lower a woman’s glucose tolerance, increase her blood pressure, interfere with her ability to concentrate and contribute to excess drinking, even during pregnancy.

A 2003 study from the Archives of Internal Medicine found long-term sleep deprivation can boost a woman’s risk for coronary heart disease, and that women who get 5 hours of sleep a night are 40% more likely to have heart problems than those who sleep 8 hours.

Health experts say poor sleep may help explain why women are more likely to pack on extra pounds than men. In 2004, researchers at Columbia University in New York found people who sleep 2 to 4 hours are 73% more likely to be obese than those who sleep 8 hours, and that those who sleep for 5 hours are 50% more likely to be obese.

Authorities say a lack of sleep may also help explain women’s increased risk for depression, which the National Institutes of Health reports is twice as common in women as men.

Fortunately, there are several proven lifestyle habits you can incorporate into your daily routine that can help you achieve nightly quality sleep while boosting the quality of your health.

Lifestyle Habits for Better Sleep

There are many lifestyle habits you can implement to help improve your sleep quality. Behaviors during the day, and especially before bedtime, can have a major impact on your sleep. They can either promote healthy sleep or contribute to sleeplessness plus tossing and turning. Daily routines also affect quality of sleep. What you eat and drink, your medications, how you schedule your days and how you choose to spend your evenings all can significantly impact your quality of sleep. A few slight adjustments can, in some cases, mean the difference between sound sleep and a restless night spent staring at the clock.

Tips for getting a quality night’s sleep:

  • Designate enough time for sleep. Allow yourself enough time in bed to get the amount of sleep you need to wake up feeling well rested. This varies, but most healthy adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep nightly.
  • Establish consistent sleep time. To improve sleep habits, retire and get up around the same times each day, including your days off. Ideally, you should go to bed early enough that you don’t require an alarm for wakening.
  • Get daily exercise. Make a point to exercise every day. While the more the better, even a 10-minute walk will improve sleep. Plan to complete your exercise at least 3 hours before you retire.
  • Catch some sunshine or bright light if you can’t be outdoors during daytime. This strengthens your biological rhythms that promote alertness during work and sleep at the end of your day. During the daytime make a point to spend 30 minutes or so outside in sunlight (wearing protective sunscreen.) Getting bright light during the first couple of hours of your day is particularly helpful. Even time spent outside on a cloudy day is better than exclusive exposure to dim indoor light. If you can’t get outside, spend time in a brightly lit indoor area.
  • Where you sleep matters. Devise a good sleep environment that is very dark, quiet, cool and comfortable. Block out any lights in the room (especially blue and white lights.) Cover windows with opaque coverings if necessary. Use an eye mask if it’s hard to avoid lights from traffic or streetlamps and/or soft ear plugs if your sleep environment is noisy. Set your thermostat to about 65º to 68º F and use bed covers. Make sure you have a comfortable mattress and pillow. Don’t allow distractions like pets or electronics. Your sleep space should be used for sleep and intimacy only. Avoid watching TV, reading or working in your bedroom to help condition your brain and your body to unwind and relax.
  • Enlist a nighttime routine. Prepare for a good night’s sleep about 90 minutes before bedtime. Doing so helps your body make the transition from being awake to falling asleep. Consider setting an alarm 1.5 hours before bedtime to start preparing for sleep. Don’t expose your eyes to computer or phone screens. Avoid excitement like watching an action movie or reading upsetting news stories. Brushing your teeth, washing your face, showering or bathing and getting into a pre-sleep routine will help you relax. Taking a warm bath 30 minutes to 2 hours before bedtime can help promote relaxation and optimize body temperature changes that aid in sleep. Transition to dim lighting during this time to promote drowsiness.
  • Try relaxation techniques. Practice mindfulness, deep breathing or slow stretching to calm your mind and soothe your body. Soft, peaceful music can enhance this time by creating a relaxing backdrop to your nighttime winding down time.
  • Check your intake. Eating and drinking before bedtime can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule as your body digests and processes what you consumed. To ensure a good night’s sleep, you need to:
    • avoid heavy, acidic (foods with tomatoes, for example) or spicy meals 3 hours before your usual bedtime.
    • limit liquids several hours before sleep to avoid having to get up to use the bathroom.
    • avoid alcohol near bedtime. While it may help you fall asleep, alcohol can cause sleep disturbances. If you plan to drink alcohol, finish imbibing several hours before bedtime.
    • avoid caffeine, chocolate, and nicotine for 5-plus hours before sleep, more if you’re sensitive (if you have acid reflux or indigestion from these items, or they make you prone to sleeplessness.)
  • Pay attention to your body’s cues. If you get very sleepy earlier than usual, listen to your body and retire. This will allow extra time for sleep. Drowsiness is your body’s way of saying you need sleep. Your body may be fighting off an infection or needing extra sleep to recover from what happened during the day. Researchers theorize that sleep and the immune system work together to fight off viruses and other pathogens. Your body also needs more sleep, especially after experiencing great mental or physical demands.
  • Know your sleep habits. If you find yourself staring at the ceiling night after night, start keeping a sleep journal. Include information about foods, feelings, thoughts and daily activities that may cause sleeplessness. A sleep journal is also a great tool in helping your doctor diagnose your sleep inefficiencies.

When to Seek Help

Getting enough sleep is not a luxury—it is something you need for good health. Call your doctor if you spend 7 to 9 hours in bed but:

  • you consistently take 30 minutes or more to fall asleep.
  • you consistently awaken several times during sleep or for long periods.
  • you take frequent naps.
  • and/or you often feel sleepy, especially at inappropriate times.

Getting enough good quality sleep significantly improves your health and safety, plus your ability to manage your day-to-day life and activities. Your Capital Women’s Care team is here to answer your questions or concerns about sleep and if you’re experiencing sleep disorder symptoms, or any women’s health issue. We provide you with expert, comprehensive care so you may realize restorative quality sleep as part of your overall personalized healthcare plan to optimize your overall health so you can enjoy a fulfilling, quality life.


Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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