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Sleep Health

Women and Sleep: Tips for Getting the Rest You Need

For optimum health and function, the average adult should get seven to nine hours of sleep daily. But more than 60% of women regularly fall short of that goal.

Sleep shortfalls can lead to a range of health problems, from being more likely to catch a cold or gain weight to increased risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.

Not getting enough sleep may be due to insomnia or another underlying condition that may require medical attention. But most women with a sleep debt run it up by burning the candle at both ends — consistently failing to get to bed on time or stay there long enough.

Fortunately, you can repay even a chronic, longstanding sleep debt. Doing so can have a profound effect on your daily well-being and long-term health. Think of getting enough sleep — at least seven hours a night — as being just as important as eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.

Here, from the experts at Harvard Medical School is sound advice for sound sleep:

  1. Create a sleep sanctuary. Reserve your bedroom for sleep and intimacy. Keep it on the cool side. Banish the television, computer, cellphone or digital organizer, and other diversions from that space,
  2. Nap only if necessary. Napping an hour or two at the peak of sleepiness in the afternoon can help to supplement hours missed at night. But naps can also interfere with your ability to sleep at night and throw your sleep schedule into disarray.
  3. Avoid caffeine after noon, and go light on alcohol. Caffeine can stay in your body for up to 12 hours. Alcohol can act as a sedative, but it also disturbs sleep.
  4. Get regular exercise, but not within three hours of bedtime. Exercise acts as a short-term stimulant.
  5. Address a long-term debt. If you’ve skimped on sleep for decades, it could take a while to recoup your losses. Plan a vacation with a light schedule and few obligations — not a whirlwind tour of the museums of Europe or a daughter’s wedding. Then, turn off the alarm clock and just sleep every night until you awaken naturally. At the beginning, you may be sleeping 12 hours or more every night; by the end you’ll be getting about the amount you need to awake refreshed.
  6. Avoid backsliding into a new debt cycle. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day — at the very least on weekdays. If need be, use weekends to make up for lost sleep.

For more things women can do to lead longer and healthier lives, buy A Guide to Women’s Health: Fifty and Forward, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.