Do you ever feel that your husband can pop out of bed more easily than you do? I certainly do. (Although when we were both undergrads at the University of Maryland, I seemed to always make my 8 a.m. labs, while he struggled to get to his occasional 8 a.m. class). Read on to find out why.
Several years back, when I was attending one of my first integrative health conferences, I recall an interesting admission that a presenting medical doctor made. She was speaking on the topic of stress management, and was emphasizing the importance of getting plenty of sleep (and no, not just on the weekend!) She casually mentioned that she went to bed between 10 and 10:30 p.m. and woke up between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. A whole 9-10 hours of sleep each night! And I thought I was being indulgent by sleeping 8-9 hours most nights, staying in my cozy bed until the kids got up around 7, while my husband awoke each weekday at 6 a.m. to catch a train to NYC. I instantly felt a lot less guilty about my extra winks, figuring, well if a busy MD does it (and she was an expert on women’s lifestyle and health), well so should I!
Now that I work with women of all ages, I have noted a few things about women and sleep. One, they often get less than 7 hours, and many get less than 5-6. Two, quite a number of the very health-conscious women I see often will arise at 4:30 a.m. to make a 5-6 a.m. exercise class; not just once a week, but a few times a week or even daily. And three, almost all women feel they don’t have time to sleep longer (unless retired and no kids at home), and that more sleep would be nice-to-have, but not a health necessity.
If you are not yet a patient of mine, I am going to give you some very, very important advice that I give my patients. Sleep is as important as a nourishing diet. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. The women who are able to follow my advice to skip a couple of exercise classes a week and sleep in, usually meet their health/weight goals more quickly than those who chronically short-change their shut-eye. Your body will be in a constant state of stress if you don’t get the sleep you need, and you can neither exercise or eat your way out of it.
So back to the men vs. women thing. It is actually a scientific observation that women need 20 minutes more sleep per night, on average, than men. And guess why they think this is so? Well, we generally utilize more of our brain, in part due to our propensity to multi-task (anyone do that?) over the course of the day. So that makes us more tired. The human brain uses 20% of the body’s basal energy needs, more than the heart, the lungs, or even the muscles. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we can “think” our weight off, but it can mean that when we get tired from brain work we often crave a high starch or high sugar snack to replenish the brain’s supply of blood glucose. Anyone like me crave a carb (mine is a piece of fruit or bread with butter) after a long session of mental effort?
Another problem I see is women struggle with their quality of sleep. Usually this affects women during the pre-menopausal through post-menopausal years, but can negatively impact women of any age. The more responsibilities, often the less sleep, especially when a woman has a hard time letting go of her to-do list or has a difficult life situation or challenge. Some women, like myself, were great sleepers until they had kids, and just around the time they started getting better sleep, perimenopause set in.
One thing I do is investigate all the obstacles that stand in the way of good sleep. A few real patient examples: one woman stopped her diet orange soda, and switched to flavored seltzer, and was able to sleep without waking for the first time in many years. (Diet soda has aspartame, a brain excitotoxin as well as caffeine in some brands – her favorite had both.) Another woman was eating most of her daily protein at dinner, once we switched this to lunch, sleep was much improved and she was less thirsty at night as well so she did not need to wake to urinate as often.
What’s preventing you from getting the sleep you need to live your best life? There is an answer, let me help you find it.