If you're not getting as much sleep as your body needs - say, you're constantly yawning, irritable, unfocused, and physically exhausted - then it's time to tweak your habits. Women's wellness experts Susan Love, M.D., and Alice Domar, Ph.D., reveal a few healthy solutions.
Start with these tried-and-true tips, which we've ordered from easiest to more challenging:
- Keep your bedroom cooler.
- Watch television, work, and read somewhere other than your bed.
- Don't eat a big meal just before bedtime.
If your sleep still needs improvement after a few days, add these steps, one at a time:
- Expose yourself to 30 minutes of sunlight every day, whether you're outside or just near a window.
- Don't drink caffeine after 4 p.m.
- Limit yourself to one glass of alcohol in the evening. (Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but it disrupts your sleep later on.)
- Exercise during the day - not before bed, because your body temperature will be too high to induce sleep.
- Avoid disturbing books or television shows before bed, including the news. (We won't tell you not to stay up late watching TV. This seems unfair. After 16 straight hours of working and caregiving, women aren't allowed to unwind in front of The Daily Show?)
Then, if you need to, move on to the hard stuff:
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
- Get out of bed when you can't sleep.
Do You Really Need Eight Hours of Sleep? How much sleep you need can also change over a lifetime. You may need a lot of sleep during adolescence, less in your 20s and 30s, and even less after menopause. During early motherhood and perimenopause, outside forces such as crying babies and hot flashes might limit how much sleep you get. But these phases don't last forever, and most women do not develop serious health problems as a result of going through them. In fact, keep in mind that if you have insomnia on one particular night, or even for a whole week's worth of nights, research shows that the number of sleep hours we get over the course of the year usually averages out to a normal amount. (Tip: After nights of insomnia, find out how to feel rested on too little sleep.)
You're the only person who knows what it's like to inhabit your body. If you've always needed 10 hours of sleep and feel terrible without it, use that information. Don't stumble around exhausted and miserable because a study tells you that eight hours is best. Conversely, if you feel great on six hours of sleep, go for it.
What's your ideal amount of sleep? What bedtime habits help your get a restful night's sleep?
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.