A decent night’s sleep (defined as about eight hours for a 30-year-old woman) – particularly the deep-sleep or slow-wave stage – is crucial to maintain the immune and cardiovascular systems and for the growth and repair of bones and tissue. Here’s what you can do to get more rest:
“We’re asking women to do a night shift at home,” says Dr. Peter Munt, director of the Sleep Laboratory in Kingston, Ont., “and then we’re saying, ‘Oh, by the way, go to work during the day and do your job.’ It doesn’t make sense.”
An afternoon or early-evening nap is a great energy booster for women forced out of bed to feed hungry babies or soothe frightened children. Or, try getting to bed a little earlier in the evening to anticipate interruptions. Says Dr. Munt, “You need to get sleep whenever and however you can.”
Menopausal and Premenopausal Women
As estrogen levels start to dip in your 40s and 50s, insomnia can start to plague as many as two in five women. Dr. Joan Shaver, a Calgarian now at the University of Washington in Seattle, has been studying insomnia and women in midlife since 1987. Some perimenopausal women, especially those experiencing hot flashes, sleep less well than postmenopausal women. Treating the hot flashes with low-dose hormone replacement therapy or, alternatively, vitamin [B.sub.6], will decrease the discomfort and improve sleep patterns, she says. Relaxing with warm milk before retiring can be a helpful routine that becomes a sleep-promoting behavior. Also, avoid bringing your briefcase to bed. Keeping work out of the bedroom reserves it as a sanctuary for sleep.
Before menopause, estrogen seems to protect women from apnea – a closing of the airways during sleep. But after menopause, says Dr. Jonathan Fleming, codirector of the Sleep Disorders Program at Vancouver Hospital, hormonal levels decrease, and snoring and sleep apnea become more common. Apnea can be treated, most often using a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask while sleeping. The mask acts as a splint to keep the airway open. It is worn over the face and air is blown under pressure into the airway.
In Your Dreams
New studies show dreaming and deep sleep are important to learning and memory. Researchers have found that sleep improves people’s ability to learn because the brain uses sleep as a time to rehearse recently learned material. Without sleep, learning is impaired, especially in those deprived of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the dream stage. The sleep-think link shows:
* Some areas of the brain are more active while a person is asleep than awake, quashing the myth that the brain rests during sleep.
* The brain uses sleep to organize and store accumulated information rather than processing input from the external world as it does during waking hours.
* Since the brain can retain new information only for a limited time, information may be lost or forgotten when the brain is deprived of sleep.