2018 Update: We still think this is a great discussion about professional women and insomnia, but you may also want to check out our more recent post on how to hack (and optimize) your sleep.
Do you have trouble falling asleep? Staying asleep? Going back to sleep? If you’ve ever discussed your insomnia with friends and noticed that most of them are women, it’s not a coincidence: Unfortunately, women are more likely than men to face insomnia for several reasons: hormonal fluctuations due to menstrual cycles (and then menopause), discomfort from pregnancy, and medical conditions that are more common in women, such as depression and anxiety, fibromyalgia, and restless leg syndrome. (Is it also because women bear more emotional labor and more often act as the default parent? I’m no doctor, but I feel like this must play a part…) If you’re dealing with insomnia, what have you tried that’s worked, and what hasn’t? How long have you been struggling?
This infographic from the National Sleep Foundation shares the basics of insomnia: it involves difficulty falling asleep, returning to sleep, or staying asleep; affects about 40 million Americans every year; and is considered chronic insomnia when it happens at least three nights a week for at least three months. (Acute insomnia commonly occurs because of temporary stress and usually goes away without treatment.) According to the Mayo Clinic, causes of insomnia include stress and anxiety; medical conditions (such as chronic pain and overactive thyroid); life changes (such as travel or altered work shifts); bad sleep habits (such as using your bed for things other than sleep and sex); certain medications (such as some antidepressants and antihistamines); caffeine, smoking, or alcohol; and eating too much before going to bed.
Besides following helpful sleep habits and improving your overall health — as these tips from the Mayo Clinic and WebMD detail — you can also try these home remedies for insomnia:
- Melatonin: Many people find relief from the sleep hormone melatonin, but not a lot of research has been done regarding its effectiveness or long-term safety. Because of that, and because it can interact with some medications, ask your doctor before trying it. It’s also best to start with low doses and to only use “USP Verified” products. (Melatonin can also be used to prevent and treat jet lag.)
- Yoga: Research studies have frequently found that yoga can help people sleep better (and even if it doesn’t improve your insomnia, you’ll enjoy other benefits, so it’s worth a try). Just don’t choose a vigorous style of yoga; too much activity before bed can increase your adrenaline and brain activity, making it hard to rest. Here are 15 specific poses to try, from Yoga Journal.
- Meditation/Mindfulness: Researchers have found evidence that mindfulness meditation helps insomnia sufferers find calm by quieting their minds. You can try guided meditations online for free, like these from Dr. Ronald D. Siegel as well as many on YouTube. (2017 Update: You may want to check out our most recent discussion about the benefits of meditation for business women!)
- Lavender: Studies have shown that lavender has a calming effect and can help people with insomnia (here are just two), and there are certainly tons of products out there. Just don’t make the mistake of assuming lavender is harmless; the herb can lead to allergic reactions, cause skin irritation and other side effects, and increase the effects of antidepressants. It should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Acupuncture: In one review of 46 randomized trials, researchers discovered that acupuncture was effective in treating insomnia — and it may even be covered in your health insurance plan.
- Weighted blankets: If you’re suffering from chronic insomnia — particularly falling asleep — give a weighted blanket a try. It’s easier to find a weighted blanket than ever these days — Kat’s had great success with them with her kids.
If insomnia is severely affecting your mood and/or making regular activities difficult (work, driving, etc.), or if you’re always tired during the day even when you think you got enough sleep, it’s a good idea to see your doctor. It may be time to try therapy or prescription drugs.
Do you suffer from insomnia? Have you found anything that has helped you get more sleep, and have you tried any of the above remedies? Have you gone to a doctor to seek help with your insomnia? Have you tried therapy or sleeping pills? What do you think is the main reason you have trouble sleeping?
- Why Do Women Have a Harder Time Sleeping Than Men? [New York magazine / The Cut]
- 25 Famous Women on Insomnia [New York magazine / The Cut]
- Q&A: Why Is Blue Light before Bedtime Bad for Sleep? [Scientific American]
- Sleep to Wake [Full Grown People]
- Sleep Disorders Screening Survey [Harvard Medical School]
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I love ASMR videos! I’m appreciative of Gentle Whispering Maria on YouTube for helping me fall asleep many nights.
+1 love Maria!
OMG yes! I’ve been listening to these types of videos for more than a decade, was before it was A Thing, and I’m amazed to see how much it’s taken off. Maria is a gift to the world.
I’d like to think that just because my boss has a hire position than me, it doesn’t make my boss better than me.
Unfortunately, my boss doesn’t believe that we are ‘equal’. She has a huge ego and wants me to ask permission for everything.
If I ask to take a day off, she would like to know what I am doing during the day off before she approves it. She wants me to inform her when I leave for lunch break. Small formatting changes must be approved as well.
How can you get pass this without crushing egos (getting fired)?
Lean out and look for a different job.
I tell a coworker when I’m going to lunch if for no other reason than they know who is or isn’t in the building in case of emergency.
My suggestion for days off is to use a stock answer. “I have a personal appointment/family matter”. Or say your pet needs to go to the vet! Don’t go into detail. I’d then emphasize “I have the personal time/vacation available, and it won’t negatively impact my work because I’ll have X, Y, and Z done before/after/in process”.
I had a similar job- If I didn’t write down when I went to the bathroom, I would get reprimanded. I would routinely come back from coffee breaks, lunch break etc. to find boss going through my internet history/work email. It made me feel constantly on edge even though I knew I had done nothing wrong. In the end life is short, you spend more time at work than you do at home…I’d start looking for a new job ASAP!
I would find this utterly intolerable.
I go through long periods of chronic insomnia. I spent literally years taking prescription sleeping pills. My main trouble is usually falling asleep, although sometimes I just keep waking up.
I’ve been in an ok period for the past couple of years with more isolated weeks where my insomnia flares up. I try to take melatonin or OTC sleep aids now when it comes up. I’ve been trying to avoid the OTC sleep aids though because the active ingredient is the same thing in Benadryl and I saw studies that say there is a connection between regular Benadryl use and dementia. That makes me nervous but sometimes I get really desperate for sleep.
The main problem is that I can’t seem to get my brain to turn off. I haven’t been able to pinpoint what the issue is when my insomnia comes back. When it is really bad I have connected it to stress sometimes. For example, I’ve had periods at work where I’ll be working really intensely on a spreadsheet and then that night I’ll sleep for 15 minutes at a time, dream of working on the spreadsheet, wake up and see the clock, then start all over again. It is crazy making. I’m still not sure what causes my brain to keep running when I can’t fall asleep in the first place though.
Your problem is so common. Gotta try the mindfulness/meditation type apps. Practice during the day a little bit, and then use them before bed to fall asleep.
Yeah, the sedating OTC aids are not good to take long term, but the melatonin is fine.
I try those off an on. Weirdly, if I do it near bed I begin focusing on that and it becomes the thing that consumes my mind instead of whatever other normal stuff is. It isn’t the same when I try during the day. Maybe if I get better at it during the day I’ll be better able to put it to use at bedtime.
That’s good if your mind gets consumed in the App. Practice, it will improve.
When I run into this, I turn on a tv show I’ve watch many times before (Netflix, on my phone, screen down, so all I hear is the dialogue) – pulls me out of my headstuff so I can relax enough to fall asleep.
Key is that it’s a show/movie I know the ending to, so i don’t feel compelled to stay awake so i can figure out what happens.
That helps me too if I can think to do it when I’m stuck in the endless spreadsheet dream loop. I should leave myself a note or something next to the clock. Thanks for reminding me.
Great discoveries for me…
Apps for mindfulness/breathing exercises to help fall asleep at night, or get back to sleep after waking up with worry at 3am. Have phone next to bed, press play, fall asleep…
To help my guy shift from a preferred “night owl” schedule with one that works with the working world….. melatonin (1.5mg is plenty… half of a tab from the Costco melatonin) in the evening (after dinner) and then a Happy Light in the early morning to help him wake up. Amazing.
Also, needed to stop all screens within 1 hour before bed. So no TV/computer/phones etc… as these create a Happy Light type affect and wake you up more.
It is very hard to switch someone’s sleep schedule if they don’t want to do it.
I relate to this – trouble shutting off my brain, sleeping very lightly and “working” in my head all night, general discomfort and restless legs. I like the Andrew Johnson apps – his Scottish accent is really soothing and I find they help me to get to sleep. If I haven’t slept well for a long period of time, I will take an ambien or lunesta for 2-3 nights in a row to get some solid sleep. Recently I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia (explains a lot…) and have been prescribed gabapentin to take one hour before bed, and told to shut off all electronics (iphone, ipad etc.) at 6 pm. I thought the electronics thing would be impossible, but it hasn’t been that bad. I only look once before bed to see if any urgent e-mail/text came in, and otherwise I put the gadgets away until the morning. The gabapentin and electronic shut off have made a huge difference in my sleep and overall wellbeing. Could be all in my head, but hey, whatever works. Also, taking Calm before bed has been helpful. It could be the warm drink as a comfort, or it could be actually something adjusting in my body. It hasn’t become a habit yet, so no real data, but thought I would mention it.
I am alot like you. I often can NOT sleep b/c I am worred about a number of thing’s, primariely: 1) meeting my billeable hours each week, 2) finding a guy to marry me and get me out of this work situeation and 3) worrying about my dad’s health — he is not getting any younger and could stand to loose a few pound’s.
So when I can NOT sleep b/c of these thing’s I usueally take a warm glass of milk. It used to work for our dog’s when they would NOT stop barkeing, so I tried it and it work’s. Mom says it is b/c of the melantonin in the milk, but I also use SOY milk.
I recomend it to the HIVE. It’s good stuff for me. YAY!!!
I was just talking about this with my co worker. We were both complaining that even 1 or 2 drinks means we’ll wake up – wide awake – in the middle of the night. I usually wake up at 3 or 4 a.m., feeling like I couldn’t go back to sleep but knowing I am tired. I try doing something else rather than trying to force myself back to sleep (which just leads to stressing and in-my-head-listmaking) but man, it really ruins dinner and drinks for me when I know I’ll be sitting bolt upright at 3 a.m.
I actually learned what causes this! It is due to the blood sugar crash that happens (since alcohol is sugar). Lower sugar drinks helps a lot with this, as well as limiting other sugar sources when you are drink (refined carbs, fruits, etc).
A friend is dealing with genetic pre diabetic issues and I have learned a ton from her research trying to find ways to lower her levels and still maintain her lifestyle.
Any success (or horror) stories with melatonin? I’ve never tried it, but my SIL swears by it.
I know tons of people who swear by it, but it has zero effect on me. I generally sleep ok unless I majorly deviate from my usual schedule one night and then I just take zzzquil to go to bed early and get back to my normal routine, happens maybe once a month.
It has zero effect on me too, and I sleep terribly.
It does help me sleep, but I have the most incredibly vivid dreams on melatonin. Not really bad dreams, just way more vivid than my typical dreams. As always YMMV.
SO stopped taking it because they were having some insane dreams (mostly nightmares) and would wake up so startled or their body would react in a way that it’d wake me up and that was just not going to work. Haha. Fortunately, it was not needed for insomnia, but just wanted to try it for better sleep. YMMV.
That sounds awful! I have pretty vivid/random/crazy dreams anyway, although they’re not typically nightmares.
While studying for the bar, my dr. prescribed propranolol (beta blocker) for sleep. I’d keep running elements and rules thru my brain and couldn’t turn it off, and the propranolol really helped. I don’t always have trouble sleeping, but sometimes I still just can’t wind down (work-related stress). I’ve been relying on benadryl, mostly because I also get random hives before bed sometimes. I’d like to try something a little more natural.
The one dream I still remember was that I got pulled over but the cop was a clown and then his car was a horse. It was super super weird and also the last time I took melatonin.
I use it to reset after jet lag. I only need a tiny amount to be effective though – like if it says take 2-3 pills, I take half of 1.
My insomnia is definitely stress-related. I use a an app called the Insight Timer for guided meditations, which are great. I also do some chanting or recitation mentally, like repeating the Lord’s prayer or another verse in my mind until I fall asleep. That has been very soothing, as well.
I went through long periods of chronic severe insomnia when I was struggling with depression/anxiety. All the yoga, sleep routines, sleep aids, etc in the world didn’t help until I sought help for my mental illness and made changes in my life to fix my anxiety. Now I generally sleep like a baby, but when I’m stressed I revert back to bad sleeping habits.
Apps and melatonin and meditating and all those home remedies are all well and good, but you need to treat the root of the problem for long-term success.
Oh this is very true. My absolute worst periods of insomnia were at the depths of my depression.
+1. Same same same experience for me too.
Funny I’m depressed stressed and anxious but rarely have trouble sleeping. I do practice meditation 3-4 weekly and take 1mg melatonin. Occasionally I’ll wake at 3:30 when SO wakes up for his early shift and have trouble getting back to sleep. Then I tighten and sequentially relax all body parts starting at my toes and work all the way up. Then to silence inner voice telling me that my life is cr@p I chant “in 123 out 123” while coordinating my breathing. That way I can quiet my mind enough to go back to sleep.
For anyone suffering from long-term sleep issues, I’d recommend looking into a little-known sleep disorder called Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder. I have it and essentially my natural sleep/wake times are about 3am/10:30am (not conducive to the working world). Treatment involves practicing good sleep “hygiene” (never use the bed for anything but sleep/sex, have a bedtime routine, make sure room is clean and restful), eliminate blue light 3-4 hours before bed, take a low dosage of melatonin(.5mg) 3-4 hours before bed, and bright light exposure for 20min-1 hour in the morning. It’s all about resetting the circadian rhythm.
I think I have this. My DH was the first one to suggest it to me. I’m sleepy like 2am to 9am and great 10am – 8pm, then sleepy 8pm – 11pm and awake 11pm- 2am. I’ve been like this since I was a older child – all though highschool/uni/grad school/3 jobs. Especially not easy now that I have two kids.
Definitely interested in any books/websites you can recommend.
It’s your body’s physiology. Using melatonin at night, and a happy light in the morning is the way to shift your endogenous clock.
I have had this since I was a teenager (well, maybe I’ve always had it, but I’ve been aware of it since middle/early high school). In some weird way it helped me survive Big Law because it made the late nights more tolerable and I was in an office where people were ok with associates arriving at 11 am as long as their billable hours were high. It was a huge adjustment when I left BigLaw and had a job where I had to be at my desk no later than 9 am every morning. I was working far fewer hours but was way more exhausted. I have started using an alarm clock that simulates natural sunlight and it has been the first thing that’s made a big difference for me (although I’ve never tried melatonin because I don’t take unregulated supplements).
Yes, I’m pretty sure I either have this or a variant on this – in my case, it feels more like my natural circadian rhythm is more than 24 hours long (more like 26-27) – in high school and college I could actually rotate around the clock during breaks (going to bed 1-3 hours later each night until I’d become fully nocturnal). I was also prescribed to take a low dose of melatonin 3 hours or so before I wanted my bedtime to be, and *as soon as I feel even a tiny bit sleepy* I have to go to sleep immediately. If I push through that initial tired feeling (which isn’t very strong), I get another wind and won’t sleep for a few more hours.
It’s definitely hormonal for me as well – when I have PMS, I’m just straight up not tired at all at night or able to sleep, but I’m not awake enough to be functional and get something done other than read a book for pleasure, binge watch TV etc. In fact, one of my very first insomniac/restlessly wandering around the house until 3 am while craving weird foods times happened for the first time the 2 nights before I had my first period.
The only thing that really helps me with getting a good nights sleep for multiple days in a row is when I can get myself back on a good exercise routine so that I am physically feeling slightly worn out when I lay down for bed. But even with that, PMS or kids ruin it, so I also have to build in letting myself catch up with weekend naps or taking sick days to just sleep the day away.
I wake up around 3am for about a half hour nearly every night, especially if I’ve had 2 or more alcoholic drinks. If I reach for my kindle, I’m usually asleep again in 10 minutes.
I was on trazodone for about 1.5 years to help me fall asleep. I didn’t have the side effects that many people have. I wouldn’t hesitate to refill the scrip if I ever have trouble sleeping again.
For my worst insomnia episodes, I have to leave the bed. I have a super comfy couch so I go into the living room and look out at the pretty city lights. I doze off and can usually get 3-4 hours in before having to wake up for work.
+1 to trazadone. It has helped me when I had insomnia due to stress, and I didn’t have the Benadryl grogginess in the morning.
I suspect I have sleep apnea. Is there any “cure” other than that clunky machine? I don’t want to use it, and thus I haven’t spent money on a sleep study because I won’t use it.
Weight loss, if that’s an issue applicable to you, can help significantly.
Yes, I take trazadone for anxiety and it’s amazing for sleep.
If you have a deviated septum, that can be a factor and is correctable with surgery.
I am overweight and snore. I am trying to lose weight, but in the meantime use the BreatheRight adhesive strips. They make it slightly better.
Trazadone made me so nauseated in the mornings…
THere is an alternative to cpap and it’s a mouthpiece that your dentist fits you with that juts your jaw forward. I’m trying to lose weight and will not wear cpap but getting mouthpiece soon.
I just started taking magnesium glycinate before bed at a friend’s recommendation and have gotten the two best nights of sleep I’ve had in literally years.
anon for this
I suffered from insomnia for years-I thought it was just some medical problem and I took prescription sleeping pills for years. Shortly after I got out of an abusive relationship and got a restraining order, even though it was financially disadvantageous for me to do so, my insomnia went away.
Insomnia for years. I finally started to get into a sleep routine (shower before bed, low lights, don’t start sleep routine until tired). I followed the advice that if you have trouble falling asleep one night, get out of bed, do something relaxing, and then go back to bed later. Bed is only for sleep – I do not read, watch TV, or surf the ‘net on it.
At this point, I still don’t get tired until about midnight or 1 am, but once my head hits the pillow, I am *out*.
Yep! Years and years worth. I mostly manage with good sleep hygiene, yoga, meditation, depression meds, and trazadone. My pup wakes me up now because I am so paranoid that he is going to die during the night (many health issues), but I have gotten that down to about one or two disruptions a night. Getting B12 shots has also helped me feel less like a zombie when I don’t get a full night of uninterrupted sleep.
I have trouble falling asleep mainly due to anxiety and chronic worrying. I went to yoga class two days back and it was a heated room with sufficient humidity and dim lights. I don’t know if all yoga studios are like this as this is the only one I have every been to. I came back home, took shower, had dinner and all I wanted to do was sleep. I turned on Michael Sealey’s hynosis video on youtube and slept at 9:30 and woke up at 7 AM. It felt so so good…
I went to another yoga class without the heated room and just light intensity stretches and didn’t feel the calming effects. So I will stick to hot yoga classes.
I really like Micheal Sealey’s hypnosis audio for putting me to sleep. I have never listened to it beyond 10 minutes because I just fall asleep within that time.
He has a whole slew of hypnosis/meditation videos and so far all of the ones I’ve tried are great.
This feels so scandalous to write, but I actually can’t believe it’s not recommended more. I am a lawyer at a big New York law firm and had trouble with insomnia for years. I was cured by … masturbating Every night! Takes just a few minutes and really no downside.
ok…I had not read the research…but I started doing this because it felt good and I noticed that I fall asleep immediately..
What a great idea. Thanks.
It was starting to become a problem in law school (after years and years of being the kind of person that could fall asleep any place, any time), so I became proactive about:
– Working out regularly (for my sanity, this means every work day)
– Putting up my phone before bed or if I’m reading something really good, I have a bluelight filter app I turn on
– Mindfulness exercises that have taught me lots of biofeedback and how to shut my body down
I also use a FitBit exclusively to track my sleep and check how much I’m actually sleeping (vs. when I get in bed). I am now able to fall asleep almost instantly and it’s amazing–though I’m pretty wiped out during the weekdays when the SO wants to spontaneously go do something.
I use my Fitbit to track my sleep too, but I find I don’t know what to do with the data I get. Any suggestions?
I have chronic insomnia and have had since I entered the working world 20 years ago. It is the worst. Falling asleep has never been my issue; staying asleep is my problem. I have tried lots and lots of different medications — from OTC sleep aids to prescriptions for depression, anxiety, and/or sleeplessness with low levels of success. At this point in my life, I am unwilling to take prescription sleeping pills because I have young children and have to be able to wake up at the drop of a hat. I echo what others have said — bed is for sleeping only, daily exercise works wonders, and, as of recently, no screen time within 3 hours of bedtime (which means I can’t scroll through Twitter and Instagram as I watch tv.) Surprisingly, this last one has made a significant positive improvement in my sleep. I still fantasize about actually having a good night’s sleep — at this point it’s like a unicorn for me.
Wait what? A TV is screen time.
I’m thinking….maybe she means scrolling through Twitter and Instagram while watching TV is replaced by reading a book? ….I’m hoping? Given the use of “as” instead of “while”? Maybe? Bueller?
I too struggle with shutting down my brain to go to sleep no matter how tired I am. I use that trick that made the blog rounds probably a few months ago now maybe? Basically you breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, exhale for eight seconds and repeat over and over. I find that focusing on the counting really forces me to shut down my brain and seems to slow my often racing heart.
As an aside, I also use this trick now as a way to calm down, particularly when I’m about to get upset. The first few funerals/memorials this year after losing my dad have been incredibly rough and so when I feel the tears welling up, I go back to the 4-7-8 and really focus on that. It doesn’t make me sleepy, just calms me down enough to pull it together.
Has anyone tried the Sleep With Me podcast? It’s supposedly utterly magical, like mindless fairy tales for adults so your brain can feel safe and shut off. I have yet to try it, but I hear good things!
I was just going to post this. My troubles falling asleep tend to do with stress and trying to shut my brain off so the podcast gives me something else to focus on while I’m falling asleep. I’ve never actually listened to the entire thing because I always fall asleep about 20 mins in.
For me, it’s almost always exercise and/or caffeine related. I started to worry a lot this summer and that would keep me up but I got an Ativan script and zzzzzzz.