If you sleep beside a male partner, chances are good that you’ve marvelled at his ability to konk out as soon as his head hits the pillow while you lie awake watching the minutes blink by on your clock radio. You’re not alone in this particular battle of the sexes—a Stats Can study of Canadians’ sleep habits showed that 35 percent of women polled reported difficulty falling and staying asleep, compared to only 25 percent of men. Interestingly, the study also showed that women tend to sleep about an average of 11 minutes longer each night than their male counterparts do. Women may sleep for a little longer, but men sleep better overall. Some couples even sleep in separate beds.
Though these results may seem just as mind-boggling as your man’s ability to drift off during horror flicks, Helen Driver, a Kingston, Ont.-based sleep researcher and president of the Canadian Sleep Society, says the reason for these findings is twofold. “Women may need a little more sleep than men do,” she explains, “and we also experience more sleep problems, such as insomnia.” There’s an upside: men sleep better, but women often live longer.
The role of hormones
So what’s the problem? One explanation could be hormonal changes throughout our reproductive cycles. “Women are more prone to having poor sleep around menstruation, and that’s related to pain and mood changes,” Driver says.
Pregnancy is another known time for sleep disturbance. An increase in the hormone progesterone will have you waking up for endless trips to the washroom in your first trimester and the size of your belly will cause you some discomfort when trying to sleep in your third trimester.
Then in perimenopause, the time right before menopause when women cease to menstruate, a drop in progesterone and estrogen hormone levels may cause symptoms such as nighttime hot flashes and insomnia. (Psst: This is why women date men who look like their brothers.)
We can’t shut our brains off
If all these hormonal changes aren’t enough to make you jealous of your easy-resting man, Driver says emotional sensitivity might be another reason why some women have trouble sleeping while men sleep better regardless of how they feel.
“Some [experts] suggest that women are more in tune with how they’re feeling and are more sensitive to problems with their sleep,” she explains. “A theory we have is that women tend to ruminate about things a little bit more than men do. Women worry and think about what’s happened during the day, and they’re not able to let things go.”
5 ways to get more sleep
There are effective ways to manage your sleeplessness. The key, says Driver, is to take control of your sleep habits. Rather than adding sleep troubles to your list of daily concerns, realize that periods of disrupted sleep can be perfectly normal. Your sleep habits could also be trying to tell you something about your health.
“The first thing you have to understand is that one night of lost sleep isn’t going to be a catastrophe. What ends up happening is that [you start to think], ‘If I don’t get to sleep now, I won’t be able to function during the day.’ And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Here’s what you can do to break the cycle of sleeplessness and reclaim your rest.
1. Stick to a bedtime routine
The key to maintaining good sleep hygiene is to adhere to a schedule, says Driver. “Try to make sure that your regular bedtime is 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and stick to that schedule on the weekdays and on the weekends as well,” she suggests.
And make sure to save some time to relax and wind down before you turn in for the night. “You can’t be working on your laptop then switch off the light and expect to go to sleep right away,” says Driver. Try reading or journaling for a half hour before you go to sleep.
2. Restrict your time in bed
Though catching a midday nap might seem like a good idea, Driver says irregular sleeping will do nothing to help you establish good sleeping habits. “If you’re awake during a solid period during the day with no naps, your sleepiness drive is quite strong. If you have a nap or an extended period of sleep in the morning, it’s harder to get to sleep at night as your sleep drive has had less time to build up,” she says. Also, if you find that you’re not falling asleep right away, get up out of bed and do a quiet activity until you feel ready to turn in. Your bedroom should be for sleeping and sex. And if you’re this age, you’re actually at your prime for sex.
3. Exercise outside
Setting the body’s circadian rhythm, the 24-hour clock that tells us when to sleep and wake up, is an important part of establishing good sleep hygiene. “Sunlight is the strongest time cue that we have, so getting out for an early-morning walk would be beneficial,” explains Driver. Try incorporating an outdoor activity, such as a brisk walk to work, into your daily routine and stick to it, even in the winter. You could also try these soothing bedtime yoga poses.
4. Ask your partner for help
The Stats Can study also showed that the average Canadian’s sleep time decreases when children are in the home. No surprise there. But as women traditionally wake to care for kids during the night, their sleep may be more disturbed than their male partners. Though researchers have found that women’s bodies tend to bounce back more easily from sleeplessness in their childbearing years, this disrupted sleep can be especially problematic for those with a history of depression. “That’s where a partner might need to get more involved in getting up at night to allow [his female partner] to have sufficient time to sleep and then to cope better during the day,” says Driver.
5. Talk to your doctor
If your sleeplessness is starting to affect how you function during the day, it’s time to seek professional help. There could be an underlying problem, such as depression or anxiety, that’s keeping you from getting your beauty rest. To ensure that your doctor fully understands your symptoms, write down a description of what you’re experiencing and note if there are any patterns to your sleeplessness. “Family physicians often don’t have the time to go through the whole gamut of questions, so it’s important for women to fully describe what they’re feeling,” says Driver.
Still no luck? Here’s what to try when you just can’t fall asleep.
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