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.
- 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]